Schadenfreude, loneliness and instant noodles: My relationship with social media
Due to a combination of extreme laziness and curiosity, I decided to see how well I would survive without internet for a week. I just got back to my last semester at university, and decided I would wait a while before I called my internet provider to reconnect. I felt strangely liberated, like I’d fallen off the map, I could only be contacted on the phone or in real life. It felt bizarre to cut the Facebook umbilical cord, and for the first little while, I had a nervous twitch. How many Facebook likes had I received? What if my favourite people to vicariously stalk had put up pictures? What if I’d received important messages or event invites? What if I was missing out on breaking news that I could access in real time? I didn’t have access to any feminist think-pieces, online shopping or John Oliver youtube videos. I couldn’t help feeling like some sort of wriggling insect beneath a rock, unaware of the wider world.
I did eventually crack, and in moments of weakness, nearly rabid and foaming at the mouth from internet deprivation, checked my Facebook on my phone’s shitty web browser. This drip feeding of internet access in the first couple of days helped me transition into going cold turkey completely.
The unnerving thing was, I suddenly found myself with an abundance of time. I spent hours catching up with people I hadn’t seen over the winter break, went on film festival expeditions and read a pile of books. I was starting to enjoy this freedom. I petted dogs in the street rather than watching the antics of internet dogs on a tiny screen. I cooked rather than scrolling through endless recipes on Pinterest. So this is what it was like before my crippling dependence on social media for interaction, news and pugs dressed as Hamlet.
So when I finally decided it was time to reconnect, I felt like my little expedition into the hinterland had taught me to have a healthier relationship with the internet, particularly with my Facebook usage. I realize now, I was being pretty damned naive.
As soon as I had access, I spent three hours straight ‘catching up’ on everything I’d missed. I started to backslide into my old ways almost immediately. Every time I do five minutes of work, it’s followed by twenty minutes of aimless browsing, drool flecked at the corner of my mouth as I trawl through endless pages of inane crap.
My main issue is my fraught relationship with Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super convenient and I don’t know what I’d do without it. But the thing I struggle with is how easily it can become all consuming. I can spending hours with eyes glazed over, scrolling through profiles of half remembered acquaintances, passively observing, absorbing, assessing. I can read endless inane opinions and ads which have been targeted to me because I’m female: weight loss, online dating and tampons. ‘Ashy Bines Bikini Challenge’ always catches me when I’m vulnerable, and I think my thighs are too thick or my stomach too pudgy, and its aggressive rhetoric of ‘STOP MAKING EXCUSES’ and ‘CHANGE YOUR LIFE TODAY’ just makes me want to curl under my sheets and eat a big bowl of spaghetti.
Another destructive and time draining aspect of social media is Facebook Schadenfreude. You type a half remembered name into Facebook’s search bar. A list of pictures pop up. You scroll, slowly, analyzing each photograph, until you see one that’s definitely the right person. You start to pick apart their lives, how much has changed, do they seem happy? Fulfilled? Successful?
It’s perverse, but I distinctly remember feeling relief when I discovered through Facebook that the girl who bullied me in early high school seemed to be living in the same narrow slice of the world she always inhabited, her life seemed to have hit a dead end- same friends, static aspirations and same old corner of shitty suburbia. I felt like it was some sort of cosmic comeuppance, and I appreciated that Facebook gave me this ability to press my nose against the glass and gain an intimate insight into her life. It’s sick.
I feel guilty for having such shallow, vindictive thoughts, but it doesn’t stop me from repeating this process with old boyfriends, acquaintances from the distant past, people I disliked in school or found attractive- Facebook fuels an insatiable curiosity about what they’re doing with their lives. It’s a vehicle for ridicule and envy and admiration. It feels like a definitive encyclopedia of knowledge about everyone you’ve ever met. I remember going on a few coffee dates with a person in my first year of university, but I didn’t have him on Facebook, and it disconcerted me. I felt like I didn’t know his back story, anything about his life other than what he told me- I couldn’t do any of my own research. When I finally did add him, I felt comforted, as though this acknowledgement on social media meant that our relationship was somehow more ‘real’ than before. Looking back, it’s bizarre how much I was hung up over something as trivial as being able to view a Facebook profile.
Sometimes Facebook escapism can be bittersweet and lonely. When I’ve had one of those days where university had been soul sucking, it’s cold and rainy outside, my room is a dank messy cave because I haven’t bothered to clean it yet, I can’t deal with speaking to anyone, I’ve had an unsuccessful attempt at studying or exercising, I’m feeling repulsive and wearing my owl pyjamas and mismatched socks and eating neon orange mi-goreng and vending machine chocolate because I missed dinner, Facebook can be a comforting form of distraction. But then you see friends and distant acquaintances reclining on beaches drinking G&Ts, hiking in dizzyingly beautiful parts of Scandanavia, running marathons or eating delicious plates of artful food whilst you swill the remains of your lumpy noodles and defrost in front of the heater, and you can’t help feeling like your life is unsuccessful, lonely and rather dull.
The thing that’s easy to lose sight of, I keep reminding myself, is that on social media everyone carefully curates the slice of their lives that they present to the world. Only the most interesting, glamorous and exciting aspects of our lives are broadcasted, we all rigorously control how we portray ourselves.
On the other hand, I do appreciate that without Facebook, Bechdel Babes wouldn’t have much of an audience, and for that I’m very appreciative. I also rather enjoy those Shakespearean pugs.