Watching a few notable people run screaming from the internet recently has been slightly bemusing. I get it. Those of us who connected to social media on a regular basis are often in danger of spreading ourselves too thin.
There is an addictive side to the internet where comments, likes and shares become something to covet. They begin to tickle that side of us that wants to be appreciated. It can translate into actively seeking this kind of approval. Or go beyond the seeking into craving it.
The ease in which we can gain validation and spread our message has a dark side. It teaches us that the praise we seek is readily available, if only we produce more. Sensible, bright and sensitive people start running themselves ragged. More content is written. More thought is shared across channels. More channels are added to the mix.
Before you know it, these individuals have so much social media you’d think they were a Fortune 500. Or trying to become one.
It’s not only exhausting for the person who is producing the content. It’s difficult to watch, too. Those loyal followers who have taken up your cause across multiple streams are over-exposed. The casual drop in becomes the all-encompassing.
It starts to feel like your socially conscious friend is off to save every single human, plant and porcupine on the plant.
Your freelance friend appears to be attempting to topple Richard Branson in one foul swoop. If only they knew the world didn’t really give a jatz cracker about user centred design or SEO as long as the damn stuff works.
Those food photos you admired have now multiplied. Your friend with the new diet and desires to cook for a living has more time to cool each meal than you do to sleep.
New parents are in danger of Truman show proportions over-share. And at risk of having a child who divorces them at 14 as a result of living in public every step of the way.
And on and on it goes.
The drama before pulling the social media plug
On the horizon of this desire to share all that is good and great with the world is a crash. There are people who burn out because they’ve blogged too much and too hard for too long.
The freelancers who pivot away from making money into teaching other freelancers how to do the same.
That office career becomes some kind of rockstardom that sinks the career through egotism.
Or the simple focus on being Mr Popular distracting any and all these people from the real job at hand- the art of living. Not in public or for praise, but for happiness.
Where is the accomplishment? The appreciation and gratitude for the life we lead? And for the quiet moments without the cheer squad?
Before the crash comes the adult tantrums. The diva moments, the paranoia and the penalty of crossing the wrong person. Here the swampy mangroves of future burn out comes the ardent desire to compete. To become ultra protective about supposed intellectual property.
The smallest bump on the road to perceived authority and stardom is viewed as a major problem. A boring problem, but a problem nonetheless.
Social media unhappiness breeds and breathes across our screen. But we fail to see our on complicity in the situation.
The internet is a tool, not an overlord
Substitute this kind of thinking for alcohol. Billions of people drink, but not everyone has a drinking problem. And not everyone goes on to having to go cold turkey and avoid it for the rest of days.
The same is true of the internet and of social media. If you spend your time over-indulging and seeking the buzz it gives you, you’re flying close to the sun. If however, you use it as a tool, it doesn’t have as much power as you think.
Social media unhappiness is an amplification of an existing state. It doesn’t create it.
Yes, I have had those moments where I felt like social media and blogging were super important. And for my line of work, they are. But a shift in attitude towards the internet and seeing it as a tool as opposed to pandering to perceived demands has done me a world of good.
And I haven’t had to blame the tool. Or break up with the internet or throw the baby out with the social media bath water to do it.
Like any good tool, there are boundaries to use.
· You wouldn’t use a chainsaw to cut your fringe. Don’t use social media to replace the sense of accomplishment you gain from a job well done.
· Stop reading negative comments. Heck, stop reading comments full stop. The same lame questions appear in the forums every week. The same angry people will fight for their political supremacy in rejection of fact. The fan girls will still kiss the butt of the person they’re doe-eyed for.
· Unfollow groups and hide people if you need to. If you can’t safely disconnect from Aunt Rosemary and her religious banter, hide it. If you’re sick of the same boring “look at me, I’m trying to be famous” take that permeates through business, squelch it. They don’t have to know you don’t care any more than you need to know they do.
· Realise your triggers and don’t engage. If social media is making you feel stretched, don’t join two new ones because the other ones are wearing on you. Life happens off the internet. If you’re under-stimulated or under appreciated, there are a bunch of other (better) places you can go to fix things.
· Respect stillness. Humans aren’t designed to be all content producing, always connected social media machines. It screws up our attention spans, stresses us out and makes us miserable. Make an effort to take a day a week away from the crazy connectivity as a minimum.
And above all else, get some perspective.
Internet usage and the constant requirement to be connected to social media is an addiction. It needs proper respect and treatment.
It also needs a healthy dose of perspective before it becomes a major issue, too.
Life goes on. At any given time, someone is dealing with a personal tragedy. Children are growing up in war zones. Kids in neighbouring suburbs are living in poverty. Some dude in a fat cat suit is fighting the next Lehman bank crash. Politicians are covering their bums as they milk the system in their favour on our tax dime. Our rates of anxiety and depression continue to grow.
So the next time you want to lash out at that terrible internet for bringing all the hateful people together or running you ragged, stop.
Social media unhappiness is about our choice to participate in it. And making social media unhappiness a focal point of how we deal with social media makes it more prevalent.
No one is making you drink the poison. You don’t have to Facebook to have a real relationship with other humans. Nobody ever changed the world with a YouTube video on how to configure a widget in WordPress. Or saved a life through shilling a printable.
The internet is a tool covered with a bunch of other tools used to communicate.
And that’s entirely where it ends.