14 Jun 2017

VOICES: WIELD YOUR AXE CAREFULLY

WORDS x Danielle Baker

So I took a month off social media and my world didn’t end. It didn’t even fall apart.

I have never bought into the idea that social media is inherently evil or the undoing of our society. Notwithstanding a basic knowledge of algorithms and user manipulation, I look at these platforms as tools – nothing more, nothing less. If you use an axe properly you’ll chop enough wood to keep you warm through the winter. But if you are careless, you might find yourself alone and bleeding out behind your hipster cabin. Facebook, used wisely, should be no different.

But was I using it wisely? It doesn’t control us, we control it. Right?

I wasn’t compelled to post a long explanation of my exit when I left, nor did I feel the need to dramatically delete my account. I simply employed a method similar to the one I use leaving every party I’ve ever attended, and ghosted. I got tired and a little bored, and slipped out silently while everyone else was busy shotgunning beers and looking for someone to make-out with.

Ultimately boredom was the deciding factor in my ‘it’s not you it’s me’ break from social media. I frequently found myself unaware of the minutes dripping away in my day while I scrolled endlessly through posts I had seen a dozen times, felt my heart race over unsettling (yes, primarily Trump) ones, or witnessed (yet another) personal ‘she said yes!’ photo, while not even recognizing the jubilant couple. It was all feeling like a gigantic one-sided repetitive conversation with people I often barely knew.

I had been sensing this for some time, but pushed the instinct aside, maintaining my social media status quo by telling myself it was important for my career. And don’t get me wrong, it very much is. Having my work shared through social media broadcasts it to a larger audience than would seek it out on their own. At some point in my fed-up-ness though, I had to get real and admit that sitting in my dentist office and scrolling through the same generic posts for the nth time that day was not helping my career, it was lulling me into a false sense of community.

I didn’t make a plan, goal, or New Year’s resolution to take a break from social media. In a very oh-what-the-hell spontaneous moment one beautiful January morning, I deleted the Facebook app off my phone, and that was it. The relief was instant and palpable.

Noticing the unusual absence on their feeds, it wasn’t long before I started receiving messages from closer friends and family asking if I was okay. It was then that I realized just how prolific my posting had become, and what resulted from these personal inquiries both surprised and delighted me. Many of these texts turned into conversations which then turned into plans – and the content of our time together was so much richer having not seen it all in advance on Facebook. Have you ever run into someone at a party only to realize that you creepily already know everything they have been up? Did you then feel the confusion of having so little to genuinely catch up on though you hadn’t seen them in ages? I have and it was unexpectedly thrilling to recapture the essence of conversation; the back and forth of listening and asking questions, of true newness. It felt liberating to connect in a meaningful way, with a conversation tailored for and by the people engaging in it.

While initially I was concerned that I would miss out on too much of life by turning away from Facebook, it turned out the things I needed to know found me. Good friends are great that way. I would get texted directly if ever a friend thought there was something I should know about, and though I may have missed a few invitations my FOMO ceased to exist so it no longer mattered. I wasn’t concerned about what everyone else was doing because, not witnessing it from a distance every 15 minutes, I was much happier with what was in front of me at that moment. Without the inundation of carefully curated lives, I lost the desire to keep up with the Joneses – the 1980’s version of everyone now on Facebook.

I did however miss one very specific part of my Facebook experience. Miniature donkeys, goats wearing clothes, tiny pigs in bathtubs, small dogs in snow and. . . well, you get the point. Those videos never did come through over text unfortunately. I was the lucky recipient of a naked man does the helicopter video however, so not all was lost in that regard.

After a month I started using social media for work and I’ve since begun posting to my personal accounts again. But my approach now is different. I only post when I feel motivated to do so because of the content, not because I believe a constant presence is necessary to stay relevant. And though this may sound self-centred, I find I’m not scrolling through my feed as much as before. Habit broken, my preference these days is interacting more personally with those I care about. Having taken time away, I’m more aware of when my axe is slipping, and I know when to take a break in order to keep my all my digits.

I have never bought into the idea that social media is inherently evil or the undoing of our society. Notwithstanding a basic knowledge of algorithms and user manipulation, I look at these platforms as tools – nothing more, nothing less. If you use an axe properly you’ll chop enough wood to keep you warm through the winter. But if you are careless, you might find yourself alone and bleeding out behind your hipster cabin. Facebook, used wisely, should be no different.

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