The Digital Detox

I have taken two weeks off Facebook. I deleted it in a strop. I had one of those infuriating social media sessions that left me raging, frustrated and exhausted. I’m not even sure what tipped me over, all of it and none of it in particular. The incessant sharing of banal day to day dinners, the violent images of war-torn communities, combined with unicorn quizzes and farmville  requests. With absolutely no differentiation in volume. LOOK AT MY CAT! SIGN THIS PETITION FOR GAZA! GUESS WHICH SOPRANOS CHARACTER I AM? SAVE OUR LIBRARIES! SAVE MY CANDY CRUSH! SAVE THE LIFE OF THIS 4YR OLD WITH CANCER! HOW CUTE IS THIS PANDA?  

I was unable to tune out or focus, instead I was just stuck, starring at my screen habitually refreshing for more ‘news’. Needing to inhale all of it at once. R has started to joke that he’s going to send me to rehab for internet addiction. He’s not far off. I am plugged in, incessantly. 

My simmering rage and underlying anxiety was exacerbated by the fact that news has been beyond grim. Diving into social media to switch off amongst the sneezing kittens and sunset filtered pics seems like a great way to de-stress having mistakenly picked up the insipid Metro or god-forbid the despicable fear-mongering Daily Mail on the overcrowded tube.  

But having settled into a nice safe buzzfeed quiz, its not long before a comment thread on a controversial image/quote/news story turns troll-nasty:  ‘You don’t agree with my POV on  x y or z  well FUCK YOU AND YOUR SNEEZING KITTEN‘.  

Or I’m sucked into  an argument on privacy settings:  ‘What? You didn’t read all 425 clauses? IDIOT everyone reads ALL 425! …’  Then I’m obsessively checking my old direct messages from 2008 aren’t appearing in my timeline (I only read 420 clauses at 2am on a Tuesday. Because I’m hooked). You’d think I was working for Mi5 the level of paranoia that a change in T&Cs can bring.

Or someone uses a semi-colon incorrectly and says ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ .WHO ARE THESE GRAMMATICAL IMBECILES?  *she says abusing adverbs, awfully and using conjunctives as the beginning of sentences –  hypocrite*

Or I post a very funny anecdote about my day. No one likes it. Refresh ad-nauseum. One like. From the random promiscuous, indiscriminate ‘liker’ who just likes EVERYTHING

Then my blood pressure goes through the roof, I’m squinting through a migraine and grinding my teeth at tight.

I have #nofilter

I felt totally hijacked by notifications and found it increasingly difficult to focus on the issues that were important. Being inundated with wave after wave of upsetting, horrifying truths, it’s tempting to stop engaging with the news at all, put our heads in the sand and pretend there is nothing going on in the Ukraine, in West Africa, in Iraq. Turn on Netflix and binge on box-sets that reflect anything but reality, without any ads or reminders that the world outside is absolutely and irrefutably just… shit. Because we have that choice. A very privileged choice. To just switch off. Deactivate. Opt out. With just the click of a button. Lucky us. Our reality has double glazing, running water, vaccines, the NHS, access to education, fluffly slippers and wifi. Not missiles, Ebola, kidnapping and militant extremists tearing us from our homes. 

I have heard this referred to as compassion fatigue. This term implies we all a certain capacity to care, and once that’s reached, tough. We just stop. Which of course has to be true to some point. We’re not capable of feeling everything all the time. We need to filter and temper and prioritise or we’d all be gibbering wrecks unable uphold society when confronted with an orphaned puppy, never-mind the searing heartbreak of  the unending conflict in the Middle East.  

But given the penetration of social media into our very privileged day to day, you know, having access to the internet and actual leisure time, we’re beginning to suffer from ‘newsroom syndrome’ (a term I stumbled upon while zoning out on Twitter, I’m not sure I am even using it correctly – standard). This is apparently what happened to news readers when TV first went mainstream – they found it very difficult to attribute the right amount of reaction, compassion or weight to any situation due to the sheer amount of information they were bombarded with.

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Not all News is Created Equal

 Here in the 21st century, we’ve all found ourselves in a similar state, unsure which story needs to take top priority, given we have the amount of time it takes to refresh a screen to change the mix of info, and therefore the ability to prioritise effectively.  And surely when we lose this ability to care, to feel compassion, to be connected, one of the main tent poles of society starts to fall down? The ability to care and then to ACT? We read this from our sofas. our desks, seats on the bus, we have a responsibility to do so. To get off our pampered asses –  we can’t just opt out. 

So here’s the conundrum. How do we care appropriately?

*cue massive social media outrage about what constitutes ‘appropriately’*

Or rather, how do we learn to filter our information sources better and quicker? Particularly when every brand and service has cottoned onto the power of Social and is literally bidding for our attention along with that of our mates, the news channels, the government. Except they they’re pushing their messages with hard cash. 

Of course this is a very simplistic take on what is a much bigger issue, and doesn’t give enough credit to our own, hopefully innate ability to know wrong from right and to weigh up the consequences and impact of consuming and distributing information responsibly. We hope. 

So how do we keep the volume of the white noise down and amplify the relevant and important stuff?

I don’t know. 

I do know that Human of New York is the one reason why I didn’t delete Instagram. That the stories Brandon shares with the world of the extra-ordinary people that he finds in the very ordinary every day restores my faith in humankind one portrait at a time. That Twitter has taught be a huge amount and raised my awareness on everything from gender politics to new music to great writers. That I’ve made new friends through this virtual world via shared interests (running, running, through a healthy dose of Nike+ running brags) And that all of this has been real and vital and life affirming. 

So I deleted Facebook for two weeks. By the time this is posted I may well be back on it. A big part of my life is online. That is a fact. But taking a good break every now and again to re-asses what really matters. To unplug and realign our perspectives. Share responsibly, take action. Speak up. But with less migraines and jaw grinding. More writing, running and face to face. Our feet in the sand rather than our heads. 

Any other tips or advice for good digital detoxes? Anti-virtual shakes? I need some inspiration!

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