The internet may be running - but you can still walk. (Part 2)
OK, so following on from my last post, here is Part 2 on how to keep your head in the world of relentless notifications, hashtags, and viral videos of dolphins rescuing lost mobile phones from the bottom of the sea...
Rule Number 4) Remember the internet is a machine, not a human.
Be careful to mistake 'I talked to a lot of people today,' with 'I just spent a few hours tapping into my small electronic device'. Phone calls are okay - there is a genuine moment to moment interaction with someone, but Messenger, WhatsApp and Instragram are no substitute for spending time with an actual living, breathing, human being. If you think that only 20% of communication is through words and the rest is through body language, tone of voice, eye contact and physical touch, this would suggest the benefits are likely to be found in those non-verbal elements also. For example, telling a friend about your rubbish day over WhatsApp may give you a slight hit of relief and support, but you're only getting 20% of the interaction, which also means only 20% of the emotional benefit.
This simply would not have happened 30 years ago. Loneliness is pandemic in the modern world and I do think the ease of conversation through a small lump of buzzing metal is playing a part, tricking us into thinking we shouldn't feel as lonely as we do. We're human beings and we need more than just a few symbols on a screen to feel the true benefits of human connection.
So next time you're sitting there with your 2543 likes, yet confused as to why you still feel a bit flat, call someone, or arrange something. Go outside and find an actual live human to talk to. It doesn't matter how technologically advanced we become, we're only going to find we can't cope without needing a hug from time to time.
Rule Number 5) Keep the important conversations for real life.
I've declared my feelings for someone through messenger and tried to have serious relationship conversations over Whatsapp. Nothing about this has ever worked out well and I'm pretty sure there are a few individuals out there who think I'm now just a bit odd because of it. There is so much room for mis-understanding and mis-interpretation. Its an absolute minefield. If you've ever tried to do sarcasm over text and ended up just wildly insulting someone, then you'll know what mean. One missed off 'x' or, god forbid, the accidental use of CAPITAL LETTERS - and suddenly an innocent text saying 'DID YOU USE UP ALL THE MILK?' can feel like you're whole friendship/relationship is about to go up in smoke - when really you're flat mates only asking so she can pick up a pint for you both on the way home.
Thing is, its easier to have a scary, vulnerable or angry conversation through a screen. If you're a polite person who doesn't like to make a fuss, technology is an easy way of being as rude and angry as you want and never having to deal with a potentially unpleasant response.
Its also a paradoxical but true thing that when you argue with someone and manage to effectively resolve the problem, the intimacy of your relationship deepens. i.e. you get closer! This is why arguing can be healthy - as discussion deepens our understanding of each other.
Mobile phones are preventing a whole generation developing effective emotional negotiation skills and the ability to experience and respond healthily to displays of emotion in people they may have hurt or disagreed with. In short; if you need to have a difficult or important conversation, stay off messenger, man up, and do it in person.
Rule Number 6) If you wouldn't be OK seeing it in the Daily Mail, don't post it.
Many of us are now wishing we could go back to the good old days of 'wow you're so tanned have you been away?' without already knowing they've just got back from a wedding in Portugal, their flight was delayed, the bridesmaids wore navy blue, and everyone got so drunk they all went skinny dipping at midnight. I know. Social media is amazing, but when I think about the somewhat intimate details I can see about people who I don't even know, its a little scary. I am a naturally open person, so I do share a lot on my channels, but this isn't without awareness and boundaries. There is a battle between wanting to be genuine (which isn't always showing the neat and pretty side of life!) and the wish to protect yourself from ridicule, mis-interpretation and 'trolling'. When you do share something personal, or something important to you, it can open up your world and be very life enhancing - as I have found since writing this blog! Most people are generally nice - but it can make you vulnerable to the nastier side of the internet and this is something to be aware of.
Another thing, when you're posting and you're sharing, remember if one day you ever found yourself in trouble, (or just randomly famous! It happens these days...), there would be very little to prevent anyone from accessing your online footprint and exploiting it however way they liked.
Rule Number 7) Take Breaks.
Oh man, take breaks. Just deactivate, uninstall the app, thrown your phone out the window and go for a walk in the woods. Ok maybe don't throw your phone away - but shut everything down for a week or so and let your online world go quiet. Referring to the title of this post; the internet is running but you really can still walk if you need it. I do this often - its great and at the time of writing this I'm on a Instagram break. Social media is a speedy, exhausting, ever-changing world and a Weapon of Mass Distraction. Useless scrolling can steal so much of your time and energy sometimes you really do need to just switch it off.
In an ideal world, I'd just get rid of it for life but my accounts hold too many precious connections to people living in all different parts of the world that I would miss. Plus, I enjoy memes too much.
Facebook is also the modern day equivalent of a 'little black book'. The world is a small place and having contacts in all random parts of life can be a brilliant resource and help you out in the strangest of ways, but for your own sanity and so you actually can remember how to quieten your mind and relax, take breaks.
Rule Number 8) You don't have to answer to everyone that wants to talk to you.
This is literally it. Just because you're online - or they can see that you've 'seen' it (and what a massive head f*** that was web/app/social media developers!?!), doesn't mean you are ever obliged to reply. Social media can make yourself and other people seem far more available and accessible than they actually are and can mess with even the most rational amoungst us. It also works both ways - if you want people to respect that you might not instantly (or ever) respond, you have to offer that respect and freedom back - and not get mad when you don't get the response you want. If someone wants to talk to you, they will.
I am the worst for having any sort of consistency in replying to messages and the people who can suffer this and not take it personally, (firstly, thank you - you're awesome, and secondly I'm sorry I haven't replied from 3 weeks ago but it doesn't mean I love you any less!!), I can have a strong friendship with. If something is urgent, say so, but we all have lives, we all need our space and maybe sometimes we just don't want to chat.
Rule Number 9) Use it like you.
One of the biggest 'truisms' from my humble 29 years is that you really just can't please everyone (and believe me - I've tried). You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. So be yourself, set you're own boundaries, and use social media however the hell you want! Some say there are two types of people in life; those who watch. and those who perform - and social media provides room for both. Some of us are fiercely private and just happ to watch, and some us love to share everything from our breakfast to our inner most thoughts. Most of us hover somewhere in the middle and there's no wrong or right way to use it other than to just be yourself.
I wear my heart on my sleeve, everything is always written all over my face, and I can't lie to save my life. My Instagram account pretty mush reflects this too. I used to have real moments of god I really need to post less, then I was like but that's just me? I like to share. It makes my world bigger and I get a lot out of doing that and if social media has shown me anything, its that you don't need to change who you are, you just have to find your people.
So no matter what else, the main thing to get from this post is to have an awareness of social media, how it can affect you and to just be yourself on it. No one is watching as closely as you think - the whole world just scrolls on past your spelling mistake or awkward selfie and carries on with thinking about what they're having for lunch so if you make an idiot of yourself - who cares?!
Social media doesn't look like its set to go anywhere anytime soon and we're all hooked because at the end of the day, it facilitates an experience that fulfills of some of our basic human needs; to feel that we belong, we are validated and we are good enough.
The paradox is, no matter how many 'likes' or 'friends' you get, feeling 'good enough' is ultimately an inside job. So, with this in mind, enjoy all the great stuff that social media can bring but the second it starts to feel destructive, or threatens your happiness or well being - block, unfollow, delete, or throw it out of the window.
Cartoon Credit: Liza Donnelly.