SWB gives social media a blasting

Facebook and Instagram; do we need a digital detox? Because let’s admit, they can be a right menace at times.

I was scrolling through my news feed the other evening and could feel my mood plummeting. There was too much information to process. My screen was almost fizzing with activity: there were videos from ecological campaigners, astute political commentary, petitions to sign. Suddenly there were alerts going off in my brain, ten things at once to like, read and comment upon. Then there were the updates from Facebook ‘friends’, having an apparently lovely time. I was suddenly beset with negative feelings and anxiousness. And this is me when I’m feeling sprightly! Not even in one of my ‘woe-is-me and aren’t-we-all-heading-to-hell-in-a handcart-moods.’

The irony isn’t lost on me that if you are reading this it is probably through the medium of Facebook. I hope my sourness isn’t contagious. Although I like a good rant I realize I’m actually living the dream. I’ve a break from teaching, the extension is finished, my children are old enough to give me a bit of peace and I’m no longer having to wrestle pen caps off toddlers lest they choke and dissuade them from eating fluff off the carpet. Maybe you’re a former work colleague rolling your eyes and thinking “What is her fecking problem now? All those coffee shops she frequents and she’s still giving off. What a truly great pain on the rear she is.” But why does a quick glimpse at other people’s lives make me feel so rubbish?

Well I’m not alone, as some research I conducted has shown. The You and Yours Show on Radio 4  did a feature a while back on the effects of social media on the psyche. Many callers identified feelings of angst and extreme dissatisfaction with their own lives as soon as they clicked on Facebook and started seeing posts of their friends basking in the sun or clinking glasses on a rooftop bar. If the highlight of your weekend was a mediocre glass of wine as a reward for housework and ferrying around your offspring, then of course you’re going to feel shite. One lady was undergoing IVF treatment and the bombardment of photos tracking the progress of other women’s baby bumps was too much for her to stand.

Young people are especially vulnerable to the erosion of their self-esteem through the portrayal of other people’s picture perfect lives on screen. And they are perhaps less likely to suspect that life isn’t always as it seems. It is so easy to present a sanitised shot thereby manipulating the truth behind it. (If you read my blog, you’ve seen the photos of my teapot and mugs right? Let’s be clear, that was a very tiny corner of my kitchen).

Years ago a friend took a five-day break to St Lucia with her husband. Such was the value of their air miles that they flew business class, drank champagne and even had one of those clever foldy-downy beds on board. She posted photos of a sand so pure and sea so blue that the greyness of a Belfast morning was almost too much to bear. So when we met up I asked her all about it, my voice high and tight, trying to quell the envy. “God but it was awful,” she told me. Well, I was all ears. “Pete was sick the whole time. He caught a bug off the boys before we left and he was never off the toilet. He couldn’t leave the apartment. We didn’t even make it to the hotel bar.” The poor girl sat by herself on the beach. No wonder there were so many pictures of the sea, she was hardly going to be taking pictures of her vomiting husband, was she?

Pictures of me have appeared on many an occasion suggesting all is splendid in SWB’s world. A couple of years ago himself and I were snapped looking rosy cheeked and full of cheer at the ‘Castlewellan Christmas Cracker.’ It’s a race in which you compete in pairs and we were dressed in matching elf costumes, as one is encouraged to don festive apparel for this eight mile run up a mountain. There were turkeys, butchers and more Santas than you could have shaken a candy cane at, all charging through the forest park. LSB, gazelle-like creature that he is, ran on ahead. Some runners kindly asked me “Are you on your own little elf?” “No,” I replied curtly. “I’m with my frigger of a husband but he has deserted me. If you pass a dark haired elf on your way be sure to give him a good kick.”

I finally found him through the throngs and we finished together looking jubilant. Next stop was the Slieve Donard to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I looked ever so happy. Anyone who saw our photo on Facebook would never have suspected that a week before I’d been in the grip of an anxiety attack so acute I’d taken myself to the GP and been given anti-depressants to settle my nerves. (I chronicled that little tale in one of my Tenx9 stories, which you can read here if you can be bothered.)

At the moment when the photos were snapped I was smiling, and they captured that feeling of joy and relief I felt. I was telling a friend over coffee a couple of weeks later about my traumatic Christmas and she looked completely baffled. “But you looked fine in the photos!” she said. Point made. Facebook posts catch but a fleeting glimpse of life, and sometimes we need to occupy a quieter, more private place.

I am pleased to report that right now I feel settled and content. But if they can rattle me in my positive frame of mind, what are the effects on those feeling a bit rubbish? Something to ponder anyway. (And if you do come off Facebook, you can read my blog on www.sourweeblog.com, or subscribe, so the recent posts go directly to your e-mail.)

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