Three years ago the first app I downloaded on my new iPhone was Facebook. Finally a chance to constantly feel part of something, to keep in touch with what friends and family were up to and, of course, to share moments of my life too. An end to feeling invisible. The possibility of initiating and joining in with the group conversations that I couldn’t handle in “real-life.” An opportunity for this introvert to become, finally, an insider.
But it didn’t work out like that. As the requests from people who wouldn’t even bother to acknowledge me in the street built up so did the daily reminders that I was not the person who friends were proud to tag in photos or posts. As my own posts went un-liked and un-commented on, my sense of self plummeted. As someone who has tried to re-invent herself many times I was horribly confused by trying to juggle the different eras of “me.” While trying to keep track of the different personas I’d tried to be with local friends, with university friends, with school friends, with family, or with clients I stressed over the most minor posts. Would people laugh behind my back for pretending to be someone they thought I wasn’t? Hell, I didn’t know who I was. I was just grasping at straws trying to work out which version of myself would be the one that people liked. Would this photo look cool or contrived? Would this post sound witty or arrogant? Would this comment offend or amuse? Was I being the hippy, the goofball, the music graduate, the suburban mum of two, the health coach, the nurturer or the rebel? Which of my Facebook friends might be online right then and who would they expect to see?
Unsurprisingly the increasingly pathetic comments I agonised over were either ignored or wildly misconstrued. You know when you trim your hair yourself (No? Is that just me?) and you cut too much off one side and try to even it up until you’re left with a wonky mess? (Ok, perhaps that really is just me.) Well, I imagine that’s what my posts must have been like. Meanwhile, seemingly rude, arrogant or throwaway posts showing up in my feed provoked gushing enthusiasm and frenzies of fandom. You could see who the popular people were, and they knew how to milk it. The secret seemed to be in not giving a damn. Does this smack of petty jealousy on my part? Hell yeah!
Gentle reader, I left Facebook. Signed out for good. A handful of people noticed I’d gone. A larger handful of people resented that I no longer appeared to care about their daily updates and faded out of my life. A smaller handful sent me texts to tell me they missed me. (You know who you are – I love you too!) The depression that I wrote about in this post was in full swing by this time. I’ve banged on about it quite a lot in previous posts so won’t bore you any further!
So what does this prove? That the critics of social media are correct? That the Internet promotes superficial connections and destroys the very fabric of humanity? I don’t believe so. Because I discovered something else while I feverishly tapped away on my smartphone screen, desperate for that dopamine hit and trying to find new, more meaningful connections: in the worlds of Instagram, Twitter and blogging you do not need to be all things to all people. You just need to find your voice and use it.
Very few of my followers have ever “met” me and so if they don’t like what I post they can leave and I am not offended in the slightest. Its not me being rejected, it’s just that my interests don’t resonate with everyone. That’s totally fine in my book! In the meantime I have made some special connections with generous, beautiful and creative people all around the world that I would never have had the opportunity to connect with without social networking. And as I have grown in confidence, I have found my voice. I feel supported in my choice of words and in the visual snapshots I share with anyone who is interested. And I have followed others whose vision and values I identify with. Whether it’s a simple photo of a room with colours and tones I want to recreate for myself, a soundbite that resonates deeply, a link to a podcast that reminds me to live in a way more aligned with nature, a recipe that breaks the occasional monotony of my own food prep, an inspirational piece of writing or a recorded interview with a health practitioner that makes me hunger for more information, these online platforms lead me to make quality, meaningful connections. Sometimes with others, sometimes just connecting back with myself.
And so slowly, the Internet is leading me back to the person I am meant to be. A woman with increasing confidence to not just juggle different aspects of her physche but to actively embrace them. Not one emotion, interest, set of actions or core value defines me. They all do. At any one time my sound system might be blasting out lightweight pop, epic symphonies, offensive rap lyrics, county ballads, jazz fusion, old-skool hip hop, intimate chamber music… If I make no apology for my varied taste in music why should I apologise for my varied roles in life?
This morning my family and I rolled out of our respective beds, pulled on shorts, and headed out for a barefoot hike fueled with bulletproof coffee and activated nuts. We climbed lichen covered rocks, sprinted up grassy hills, marvelled at the distant views across the river Severn, ducked to avoid swooping swallows; and bathed unselfconsciously in the early morning sun. (And took the picture above!) Would we have done this if not for the continual Internet reminders that I open myself up to? Would I have discovered Primal living, ancestral health, minimalism and re-wilding without giving into the addictive nature of tapping for answers on my phone screen? Probably not. If superficial connections lead to these truly satisfying ones I’ll take ’em! And to those of you I’ve “met” online I truly look forward to the day I can connect with you over a cup of coffee and a walk in the sunshine – shoes optional!