It started on Monday morning when rushing around getting ready for work, I tripped over a basket of clean washing (it was clean, somehow that matters) and sprained my finger. Just my little finger on my left hand, but oh my, the pain, and oh goodness, the ramifications.
I couldn’t type so work was extraordinarily unproductive all day, I couldn’t drive to bring my daughter to her eye appointment, and trying to put pyjamas on a moving-target-baby that evening would have been hilarious if it didn’t hurt so damn much. Not a great start to the week.
On Tuesday morning I had to get a bus to work as I still couldn’t drive. This was a serious inconvenience – a walk, a wait, an hour long journey and another walk, this finger-injury was starting to be very annoying.
But, it was a beautiful, sunny morning, it felt like finally Spring had arrived. The walk to the bus-stop was refreshing, the bus was on time, and as I sat down on the sunlit seat, it slowly dawned on me that I was about to experience some parental-gold: a whole hour to myself. Sitting down. Uninterrupted. Not working. Not driving. Not feeding or changing or cleaning anyone. Just sitting. Peace and calm.
After two minutes of tranquillity, out came the smart-phone, and like everyone else on the top deck of the 46a, onto the internet I went.
I spent most of my hour scrolling through Facebook, which now displays random posts from every group of which the user is a member. At first this seemed wonderful, a way to dip into all the groups that I don’t visit so often. Groups about herbal remedies and eating unprocessed food that I’d forgotten I’d joined. A group about baby-led-weaning that is no longer topical for me now that baby is 16 months old, and a group about baby-sleep-solutions that is unfortunately still all too relevant. Interspersed with these were distractingly diverse posts from blogger sites, and even some status updates and baby photos from “real life” friends.
But after a while I found myself feeling slightly anxious – there was so much going on that I wasn’t involved in. Online friends chatting away without me! Discussions that I barely had time to read, let alone join. Conversations that were already over; I’d missed the chance to add my two cents.
Facebook was making me feel a little uneasy, but now I’d reached my stop, so there was no time to go back to get involved in every conversation. I walked to my office with a little tiny cloud above my head (real and metaphorical), thinking about the effect that social media has on our lives.
I was definitely now suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out) – how had my sunny bus journey turned into this black cloud? Of course I know why, the internet is addictive, compulsive, it sucks you in. The highs are wonderful, but the lows inevitable.
An evening spent on Twitter and Facebook, chatting, commenting, getting feedback, giving advice, connecting, bonding – it can be a wonderful feeling. It was via Facebook groups that I discovered baby-led-weaning and babywearing, that I found out that I didn’t have to stop breastfeeding because I was returning to work. I’ve met up with online friends in real life and found my childminder via a recommendation from someone I’ve never met, in one of the parenting groups.
I can’t watch live TV anymore without having Twitter open at the same time to see what everyone else is saying about Graham or Ryan on a Friday night. And then I discovered blogging, which opened up a whole new network of lovely, chatty people. Addictive. Compulsive.
But then comes a low – a quiet night when you’re late to the table and scan through as much as possible but without getting actively involved. It can leave a slightly empty feeling. Which makes no sense – firstly because it’s a self-created situation – it was me who didn’t join in the conversation, nobody left me out. Secondly, it’s the internet, it’s not real life!
And as for tweeting famous people – don’t go there.
The ultimate social-media low: sending a compliment to a long-admired author, a thoughtful reply to a favourite journalist or a witty comment (OK, I thought it was witty) to a certain female comedian, only to hear….nothing. And I know famous types can’t reply to every tweeting fan, but that knowledge doesn’t make me feel any better when I type into nothingness. Oh the lows.
The only way to maintain the highs and avoid the lows, is to either switch off, or to get more involved.
Of course the social media providers want us to get more involved – find more friends, connect with more people, comment on every post, update your status – look at this nice little space with your profile picture, just waiting for you to write something. It’s all so easy, and it’s designed to make us want more and more.
But if it takes so much time and effort to stay in the conversation, what’s the trade off? What will be the outcome? Is the internet a curse or a blessing? What will the next generation think?
I don’t know what the long-term impact on society will be but I guess if it’s taking a disproportionate amount of time away from real life, there’s an imbalance that can’t be healthy.
For each person, this balance will be different. For me, if I find myself shushing the kids on a sunny Saturday afternoon while tweeting about being a busy parent, I’ll know the internet has won. I’m not there yet…although I am typing this with a sprained finger.