Lesson 23: staying connected

8b765cb1c4a29735a53f657978fd9266

Social media blows my mind. The power it has over people is one of the greatest mysteries of the modern age. It’s addictive; fuelling the insatiable appetite we have to define ourselves, whilst giving us just enough control over the way we wish to be seen. So, what does that tell us about how we interact with each other?

Almost every social-media platform has eerily evolved from a means of communication to a voyeuristic wonderland. People no longer tend to chat on Facebook, they use it to stalk people. We follow people we don’t know, based on the way they look. The newest platforms focus on imagery alone. Everything is visual and photos have to be atheistically pleasing to be worth posting. You could have the best night of your life but the pictures won’t make it onto your profile if you didn’t look cool or attractive. We’ve been bullied out of posting ‘normal’ pictures because everyone else’s fake ones look so much better. Our pictures are all becoming posed, especially the ones we want to look the most natural. I can say all of this because I’m a prime offender.

I’m also a hypocrite. I hate the fact Intagram plays such a big part in how we view the world, but then I use it to advertise my blog, or showcase my day. We’re professionally and emotionally dependent on virtual connections. We’re in a never-ending talent show, liking, liking, liking all day, every day. We’re constantly on show, constantly being judged. Even the people without social media are being judged. How weird…he doesn’t have Facebook.

My relationship with social media fluctuates between completely compulsive to carefully considered. Sometimes I settle down to read or write and immediately start scrolling through Instagram instead. 30 minutes go by and It’s like I’ve been possessed, flicking through picture after picture, barely pausing to focus on a single one. What am I looking for? I have absolutely no idea. Inspiration? Probably. Reassurance? I guess so. In reality, I’ve wasted my time. It’s plain old procrastination. Other times, I use social media in a constructive, useful way, with site statistics and cultural affairs dictating what I write and what I search for.  As if having a real persona and an online persona wasn’t schizophrenic enough, we have so many different uses and agendas for different types of social media – each one demanding a new version of ourselves. Much like we turn to certain people for certain things in real life. Both our real and online personas are subject to same human tendencies, so how can you determine which one is the real you?

Our identities are simultaneously the most fluid and the most controlled they’ve ever been. As a writer, I’m obsessed with the dichotomy between the real and not-real. Everything you read on my blog is ‘me’ through and through. It’s my voice, my opinions, my personality. And yet, I haven’t uttered a single word out loud. It’s all online, created for a purpose. Is this my virtual persona? Or are my posts a snapshot of the real me? If you find reading them a positive experience, it really doesn’t matter either way. So, here’s my advice: learn to recognise when social media leaves you feeling unnecessarily shit about yourself, and then walk away.

Last week, I went for a drink with a few old work colleagues. I was really surprised and grateful when they told me they’d been reading my blog after discovering it on Facebook. I felt instantly connected. This is when social media does the job it’s supposed to do. Similarly, since setting up my blog, I’ve shared uplifting conversations with people online that I haven’t spoken to for years. It’s really humbling to think that amongst all the selfies and filters, we still have a simple desire to connect with each other on an emotional level. As emotional as you can be when you’re just a few words on a screen.