It’s a bit of a beast, this Internet age isn’t it? The endless opportunities at our fingertips. I get so excited by it; full of ideas, about the innovation and connection potential it holds.
But it’s also exhausting, right? I can’t be the only one that finds it exhausting. I’ve sat on this blog post for approximately three months because I find the social media exhausting and I kept coming back to this piece with more to say.
I counted recently that there are no less than 15 ways that people can contact or get a hold of me online – through DM’s, tweets, emails, whatsapp, comments etc. That feels kinda crazy and a long way from waiting on letters arriving from penpals or going to the cupboard under the stairs to ring the home phone of a school mate and having to go through small talk with their mum before you got passed the phone.
A couple of months ago I had a bit of a tough conversation with a friend. She shared how she had noticed that I had responded to lots of comments on one of my Instagram posts but had waited days for a reply to her text message about lunch. That stung. It stung because it was true and pretty hard to face. A message from a dearly loved friend had got lost in the frenzy of engagement online.
And so here is where it can turn into a bit of a beast. How can we ever keep up with this relentless style of communication? How can we be available to so many people in this many ways and expect to have healthy relationships and boundaries? I continue to ask this of myself as I gradually loosen my grip on social media.
I want to write about this sensitively, because I am aware that how people use social media is a touchy one. We all use it or consume it for different reasons. Some people use it to promote their services, businesses and some simply to keep in touch or maybe even to feel less alone in a relentless day of stay at home parenting. Maybe a mix of all of those things. I’m not the internet police, but I do wonder if there might be room for a conversation, particularly amongst women of the blogging/’influencer’ world, about how the constant rat race of posting, polling and sharing might be burning people out and moving them away from being tuned into their own decision making and desires at a pretty fast rate.
My thinking around it these days is this: if we are continually putting out content on our social media, IG, stories, chats, blog, youtube or wherever else we like – we are inviting people to engage; which can be wonderful and supportive and will maybe open doors to meeting new people, building important business connections etc. but the offshoot to that; the payment for those things is that when we invite people to engage, we are most likely going to feel a need to respond to that engagement. After all, it is social media.
Here’s what I’m seeing happening with bloggers and those trying to build a following: we post something - we invite engagement, and then we are burnt out by having to keep up with that engagement which we now feel chained to so we can keep algorithms in our favour and likes rolling in and new followers clicking through and for what? What is the ultimate goal here? Is this really the culture we are striving for? One where we miss the messages of our friends because we need to post at certain high traffic time because the algorithm is the boss of our lives? Doesn’t it seem a bit like we are pushing or striving a bit too much? And to what end? What is the holy grail of all this posting and engagement? How do we really measure what impact our voices, our sharing, our engagement has? Surely it’s human connection?
Rob Bell did an incredible podcast series that has been so timely for me to listen to as I have been putting together (and avoiding publishing) this post. In it he talks about this film maker who made a movie that was met with less than favourable box office stats. He said about his film “our metric for success is off. There are no reliable statistics for hearts opened or wounds healed”. He had made work that he loved. He knew it was good. He felt it in his bones so he knew that statistics or likes were never going to be a true measure of its impact.
You see, there are so many voices, images, people trying to be heard across so many platforms and I think it would be fair to say that we all hoping to be seen in some way; even if your interaction with social media is a fairly relaxed one.
And wanting to share or to be seen/heard isn’t a bad thing, absolutely not. It’s a human thing – the inner wiring we all have to connect and share. “Hey, look at this picture of how cute my kid is in the snow!” “I really love these shoes, aren’t they awesome?” "This video is so funny, I just had to share!" “This issue is so awful, will you care about it with me?” We are all searching for that ‘me too’ moment - to feel a bit more understood and known.
Lately though I’ve been finding that social media has become so noisy, and I wonder how much of that noise is actually adding value to our lives; to my life. I wonder if a lot of what is being put out there is more about the need to keep up with regular relevant posting and the fear of being forgotten about rather than wanting to add value; to really connect.
I’m also intrigued about how we talk when we haven’t been present online as much as usual. I observe amazing women (especially) come onto instagram stories and apologise for not being ‘around’ because they have been busy with sick kids/work/general life etc. I don’t think we say it because we feel so important that we need to explain our absence, but there is an underlying concern that we need to justify living our life outside of social media. How about we make a pact of no more apologising to people behind screens for not being on your screen. It’s all backwards and no one – whether you have 20 or 20 000 followers, should ever apologise for having a life. I think women could do with apologising less for unnecessary things in general too.
It’s amazing to have a community of people to connect with online, but you also don’t owe anyone anything – you know that right? You don’t owe anyone on the internet an update on your day, or really even a response to what you’ve shared. I think the more we give ourselves permission to strive less with our online lives, the more we can give that permission to others and slow this train down a little. There is no online finish line to hustle towards; no magic amount of followers to gain before life becomes easy and we are exempt from the mundane. That day isn’t coming and we need to stop apologising for being present in other areas of our lives. Don’t let the pace of others dictate your pace.
That isn’t to say that we should share less – that’s where I want to be clear. The internet and social media has been great for women in particular. Mothers who feel less alone because of online communities they have formed while the demands of parenting could keep them isolated; women in business who can promote their work and ideas on their own terms. It’s incredible and worth celebrating for that. What women have to say need to be heard – their space needs to be taken up. That’s not what this is about…
What I’m figuring out is that I only want to bring something to the table that adds value, not noise. It won’t add value for everyone (How remarkable! Not everyone is going to like me or what I bring to the table!), but I want to be proud of what I share, to feel good about it for myself, knowing that it aligns to my values and is either likely to serve someone else or lead to some sort of real-life moment of connection. That’s what I’m really after. That’s the legacy of social media usage I want to have.
Here’s why I think we should claim back our social media power:
1) We are not supposed to be able to be all things in all places. We have limitations and they are healthy and important and actually freeing. Listen to your mind, your inner voice, your body. Are you feeling pressured, rushed, overwhelmed, left behind by this narrative that you should be doing/sharing more online? Your mind and body may be telling you that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Listen to it carefully.
2) Taking your time and adding value means that you can carve out a unique space for yourself online; one that feels like it has purpose and intention and actually attracts or serves the people you need it to, particularly if you are a business owner or you offer services. Creativity is easily clouded by the idea of having to do lots of things in order to be seen and it often leads to doing nothing at all. Do something well; be intent on becoming an expert or a go-to person on something that you really love or feel passionately about. Give that your focus and watch your creativity flourish.
3) We could all do with being a little less ‘influenced’. I wonder how many of us realise how much we have become consumers of other peoples ideas, likes, taste and style instead of really getting to know ourselves or being realistic about our own lives. What might you need to unfollow or unsubscribe from to be able to be unstuck from other people’s version of enough or of happiness? (for me, it was unfollowing a lot of beautiful but out-of-my-price-range children’s clothing accounts – heaven help us all - I cannot afford to buy cashmere onesies that will forever be stained orange by a toddler who is very wilful about her orange peeling autonomy). What do you need to do to protect this space for yourself?
4) Finally – I’ve been realising just how much social media is muting our connection to our own true desires. I am actually starting to think that the poll feature on Instagram/Facebook is probably the work of the patriarchy. Countless times I have seen women use this poll feature to ask the opinions of perfect strangers on everything from what kind make up look they should do, what they should talk about on stories, what kind of blog posts they should write and what they should wear. No way. Women did not die fighting for us to get the vote so you could be ruled by other peoples opinions on an instagram poll. Asking opinions for things like style, writing and sharing ideas should NEVER come from anyone else but you. Nobody. For years women have been told that they need to seek advice and counsel outside of themselves, moving them away from their own inner wisdom and desires and it’s just not right. Step away from the poll feature ladies. Write what YOU want to write (your people are out there – the people who love what you write and want to connect with your ideas). Wear what YOU want to wear. Create content that YOU are proud of.
Let's claim back our power and resolve to add value. Stick it to the man and stick it to the poll feature.
Maybe that would have been a snappier title?