Cutting the Connection: When Social Media Stops Feeling Sociable.

So there I was, tapping away at my keyboard, watching the magical words appear on the screen, crossing my fingers that – at last – Castle Clair 2 was well on its way (and crossing your fingers is very hard to do when you’re typing, trust me) when, all of a sudden, I was attacked on all sides by the enemy.

When I say all sides it was, strictly speaking, from the front, because it was all going on via my computer screen – but it felt as if it was an attack from all sides because my monitor is HUGE, and there were things happening on the left of the screen, and things happening on its right. Pings and pops were bombarding me, and to make matters worse, my phone was sitting on my desk and joined in the fun.

Aarrgghh! I thought (because I never scream out loud – unless there’s a spider and I’ve grown adept at silent screams, sadly). What the bleeping bleeping bleepety bleep is going on here?

What was going on is something that goes on all the time. The thing is, it’s usually confined to my phone, or a small laptop screen, so it doesn’t affect me as much. On a large desktop monitor, with speakers on full volume, it was too much. Way too much!

It’s all too much, I tells ya!

What am I talking about? I’m talking about social media notifications. One minute I was lost in the world of the St Clair siblings, as they were dealing with a particularly tricky reunion, and the next I was staring in horror, as first a message pinged up in front of me, then a notification of a new post in a group I’m in slid across the screen,  quickly followed by a new email. It’s a computer I’m as yet unfamiliar with, and I haven’t yet turned off notifications, clearly. And it got me thinking – how many times does this happen without me even noticing, every single day?

I’ll bet David Niven would have ignored his phone

Last night, DH and I were watching a lovely old film – A Matter of Life and Death, if you’re interested. About twenty minutes in, I needed the loo, so we pressed pause. I hadn’t even got up from the sofa before I noticed DH reaching for his phone to check his notifications. An hour later we wanted a cup of tea, so the TV got paused again, and while we were faffing around we BOTH checked our phones! I realised that every time we watch a programme together, instead of talking to each other in the ad breaks, we each pick up those wretched phones and spend the entire five minutes scrolling down in silence.

This isn’t good. Last week, I said I was going to bed early and took my Kindle upstairs to read a few chapters of a novel I’d started. I decided to just have “one last check” of my social media before I picked up the Kindle. An hour and a half later (!) I put down the phone, too tired to even switch on the Kindle! What a total waste of time.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I scroll aimlessly up and down my Facebook timeline or Twitter feed, in the desperate search for something new. I find myself reading newspaper articles that don’t interest me, clicking on posts to read comments that I know will do nothing but wind me up and make me stressed. I know I’m bored. I know I’m getting more and more cross. Do I put the phone down? No! Why not?

So much to see! How to keep up?

It seems to me, now, that social media is extremely badly named. It’s made us all very unsociable. It’s not uncommon for DH and I to be in the same house and be communicating via Messenger. My mum complains bitterly that when her children and grandchildren come to visit her, half the time they’re glued to their phones, and I can’t deny it’s true. I don’t think I’m one of the culprits, because I try to only look at my phone to check if DH has messaged me to tell me what time he’s picking me up, but I’ve been there when several other family members have been glued to their mobiles.

Remind me again, what do you look like?

I went into the kitchen once and found my husband and son standing, side by side, talking to other people on Facebook as if the other one wasn’t there!

Last week, I wrote a post about Comparisonitis. If you haven’t read it, you can find it here. Basically, I was saying how easy it is to compare yourself to someone else and feel that you’re lacking in some way. That you haven’t come as far as they have. That you’re a failure. Social media is a huge part of this. People tend not to post online how rubbish everything is and how insecure they’re feeling.

Instead, we get an endless stream of “Look at me and my perfect life. Look at the wonderful lunch I’ve just had. Look where I am today! Look at my new handbag! Look at the fabulous news I’ve just received!”

Happy to post this picture of lunch on Instagram …

All very well and good, but we don’t see the “Look at the state of me – I can’t even be bothered to change out of my pyjamas. Look at this huge spot on my nose. Look at the written warning I’ve just had from work because I’m doing so badly at my job. Look at the electric bill I’ve just had that I can’t afford to pay” posts, do we? So, of course, we compare their lives to ours, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we’re going to feel pretty bad about ourselves, even if we try to convince ourselves that there’s two sides to every story. Right?

Not so happy to post this picture of my REAL lunch on Instagram …

I’ve recently purchased a book called The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee. Among other things, he recommends a day off from social media every week. He points out that, before we even get out of bed each morning, by reaching for our mobile phones as soon as we wake up (guilty, m’lud) we’re already sending our stress levels soaring. He makes such a lot of sense.

Excellent book!

After another rotten day of feeling like a hamster on a wheel, running round and round and going nowhere, I’ve made a big decision. I’m taking two days off social media every single week. I’m also taking two days away from writing, and all work-related activities. I know it will be tough, and I know I’ll panic and feel guilty and think I should be at that desk. However, I also know that I need this.

Wish I’d remembered to wear my Fitbit!

At my day job I didn’t work seven days a week. I worked five, and boy did I look forward to those two days off! Not only that, but I had five paid weeks’ holiday, plus bank holidays. Yet, as a full-time writer, I feel guilty if I skip a single day! Writers are told that we must write something every day. Why? Do plumbers have to fix toilets every day? Do bricklayers have to construct walls every day? Do dentists have to extract teeth every day? It’s not as if I’m going to forget how to write, is it? Even I’m not that forgetful. Leaving the day job was supposed to free up some spare time but, in actual fact, I’m chained to the desk more often than ever. Things have to change.

The actual words I said. Sort of. Maybe.

So, Sundays and Mondays will be my weekends (since DH works Saturdays) and there will be no work or social media involved. When I go away on holiday, I will not be taking the laptop with me.

I said at the beginning of the year that I was going to change my way of life this year, and that I would take small steps to do so. This feels like a huge stride rather than a small step, but I think it’s a necessary one.

I want to live a real life, not just a virtual one. I want to recapture the days when conversing with my friends and family on Facebook was a fun activity, not a chore, and I want to have a couple of days each week with no pings, no sliding notifications, and no guilty feelings.

Can I stick to it? Who knows? I can but try.

Wish me luck!

Have a great week.

Sharon xx

15 thoughts on “Cutting the Connection: When Social Media Stops Feeling Sociable.

    1. Thank you, Anne. You have such a busy life, I think you probably need the break just as much, if not more, than I do! And it seems that working from home, you’re never “off duty” somehow. Definitely time for a rethink. xx

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  1. Great post Sharon. I too get really annoyed when I get notifications from Facebook, mostly that ‘so and so is somewhere’ – I don’t really care at the moment, if I want to find out what they’re doing I’ll go into Facebook myself! I also hate getting emailsrecommending Instagram or similar posts ‘I may be interested in’,thanks, but I’m really quite capable of checking out posts I’m really interested in all by myself – but when I choose, not when I’m in the middle of trying to fix this darned ‘plot hole’!

    I’m one of those (probably) rare people who isn’t constantly checking my phone or tablet, but I use a desktop most of the time and find i’m incapable of turning off the internet (suppose I have to do some research and have to Google something?) The fact that I would probably lose less time by reconnecting to the Internet than I do by the constant interruptions seems to pass me by.

    We’re always being told by the ‘professionals’ that as writers we need to get out there on social media, to establish our ‘Brand’ and get outselves known. Well, I’m all over the internet like a rash and to be honest, I have a feeling it’s far more of a distraction than an asset, but perhaps I’m doing it all wrong …

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    1. That’s the problem, Hywela. When being on social media is required as part of your job, it can stop being interesting and fun and start to become a chore. Not to mention an obsession! It’s essential to find a balance, somehow, but it’s easier said than done, I know. If you’re doing it all wrong, then you’re certainly not alone. xx

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    1. It’s that “Feel the Fear” thing, Isabella. Writers do have it drummed into them that they must have a constant presence on social media, and when I think about taking time off I do have that instant panic: What if everyone forgets about me? What if books sales plummet as a result? It’s probably stupid to think that way, but we’re so conditioned to believe that we have to be “out there” keeping our names in the public eye, pushing our books, sharing promo posts, having conversations etc that it’s difficult to step back and relax about it. But I’m determined to do it, so we’ll see if the sky falls in after all! xx

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  2. Great post, Sharon and you’ve inspired me with a thought for a short story. What if aliens taking over the world are not little green men from Mars, but rather tiny robots who squeak, and ping and beep as a form of communication? They steal hours of our lives under the guise of ‘a quick 5 minutes on social media,’ and before we know it we’ll have forgotten have to speak, except through our fingers. Writers beware. They’re coming for you. 😀

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  3. Well said, Sharon.
    Years ago I bought a mini tablet, set it up and was horrified to find myself inundated with pings. It has not seen the light of day since. I use my laptop and only turn on SMedia individually when I want to view them. Yes, my email is live all the time, which I shall have to stop, but it’s part of the portal open for research checking [isn’t it easy to rationalise? I don’t need my email on for that, do I? – No!] Smartphone? I don’t have one. Best decision ever.

    PS: how did I find your post? Via a Twitter notification – LOL!

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    1. That’s the thing, Linda. We need to be “found” or who would ever discover our books, but the price we pay is a heavy one. If I wasn’t a writer I wouldn’t be on social media! Smartphones are the worst inventions ever. I wish I could break my addiction to mine. Never use it as a phone. It’s basically my portable computer. I don’t know what the answer is. Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Pingback: Pulling the Plug ~ Two Days Without the Internet and How I Survived It! – Sharon Booth

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