I check my phone – the top bar is lit up with little symbols that meant nothing two years ago but mean a little more than they should right now.
A tiny bird that tells me someone on Twitter is talking to me.
A familiar “F” to indicate that someone on Facebook is tagging me or commenting on my post.
A What’s App message, a Viber message, and a good old fashioned text.
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I scan the source of the notifications and then put the phone down to continue getting the kids ready for bed, in my ongoing attempt to stay offline while they are still up.
Half an hour later, children asleep, my fingers tap out my login and password on my laptop – no conscious thought required, autopilot in gear. Click, click, click.
Ahh. A sigh of comfort, a sense of familiarity. My happy place.
I scan my Twitter timeline, my Facebook newsfeed. Check notifications. I Like stuff. People Like my stuff. Jump from group to group. Click, click, click.
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Satisfied that I’ve caught up with what’s going on in the world and what everyone is having for tea, I move on to blog reading or even TV.
But the Facebook and Twitter checks and chats continue to a greater or lesser intensity for the night. Looking out for those little alerts, those red flags, those numbers that tell me someone is talking to me.
Some nights, it’s like being in a busy pub with great friends.
The conversation is flowing, the banter is generating literal “LOLs” and there’s a feelgood atmosphere. Mutual compliments, witty oneliners and smiley faces flow out of fingertips and onto screens all over the country.
It’s Friday night, we’re chatting and laughing, many of us are having a glass of wine – the only difference from a real pub is that we’re not actually together, and we’re possibly not wearing make-up and heels.
But the music isn’t so loud as to drown out the conversation – the beauty of the internet is that we can all hear and all be heard.
These are the highs. These are the nights that show social media in its best light, in all its shiny glory.
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On other nights, it’s like being in a cavernous city-centre pub on a rainy Monday night. There’s just not a whole lot going on.
The notifications are sluggish coming through, the groups are eerily quiet. Where is everyone? Is there another group that I haven’t discovered yet – is that where all the chat is tonight?
Or could it be that everyone is offline and enjoying real life? A novel idea, maybe I should try it.
Social media is set up to keep us engaged. If there are no notifications coming through, a sure fire way to kickstart some is to comment on existing posts or start a new conversation; reply to a tweet or just throw something out there into the ether.
Prodding with a stick until somebody reacts. The more you put in, the more you get out. That’s what Facebook and Twitter want us to do and all too often, it’s impossible to resist picking up that stick. Prod, prod, prod. Click, click, click.
We are trained to carry out particular actions in order to engage and be engaged. Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey knew what they were doing. And now Facebook tells us constantly about other groups we might like to join, friends to invite. Twitter suggests people to follow, mentions common connections.
Like virtual matchmakers, intent on keeping us hooked on this social media drug.
But some nights are just…well, flat. And on those flat nights, you have to remind yourself that it’s not real-real-life. Pick up a book, put on a movie, chat to your other-half.
Or if he’s out, and there’s nothing on TV and your book is upstairs, write a blog-post about it.