Do you panic over what people on social media think about you, and lack the courage to quit it, and feel guilty about what a pathetic first-world problem it is? Ben Pobjie wants to know.
Social media has been good to me. It’s helped my career, boosted my profile, and made me quite a few good friends. As a writer, it’s of enormous use, not only in disseminating my work, but also in helping me maintain the human connections that are easy to lose a grip on in this rather solitary profession. And I enjoy knocking out jokes on Twitter and bantering on Facebook: apart from anything else, social media is fun.
The only problem is that it’s driving me completely out of my mind.
It’s a hideous cliché to say that “social media has made us less social than ever”, and what’s more, it’s not true. Social media has put me in touch with more people than I ever would have been without it. I’m more connected to the world through social media than I’d ever have dreamed before it came along. And perversely enough, that’s the terrible thing about it - I’m so connected that I’m a hideous writhing morass of insecurities, my mind is filled with the terrors and neuroses that connection brings. I’ve never believed ignorance is bliss, but I’m starting to think that maybe knowing a little less about what everyone is doing and saying every day might calm me down a bit.
It’s too many people, too many opinions, too many things to go wrong. As mentioned, I’ve made plenty of friends on social media. I’ve lost plenty of friends too. And of course when you’re on Twitter, and the ex-friend is on Twitter, and the people who are still friends with both of you are on Twitter, you keep seeing their name, you keep being made aware of them, and being reminded of your knack of continually messing up the business of human relationships. People think the “trolls” are the bete noire of social media users, but tweets calling me a racist Nazi Muslim and the odd Facebook message advising me to kill myself are far easier to handle than having your deepest regrets popping up in your feed on a daily basis.
And what about the people who are your friends, or that is, you think they’re your friends, but they don’t seem as friendly with you as they do with other people on this site, and they keep tweeting about what a great time they’re having somewhere you weren’t invited, and they didn’t reply to your last tweet to them, and oh god, they don’t even LIKE me do they? If you really want to be miserable, move on to the subject of all the people online who you try to impress, but who never seem to notice you.
One term sums up some of the terrors of social media quite well: it’s FOMO. The fear that other people are closer friends with each other than you, that they’re having more fun than you, that there’s a whole great social life being lived just out of your reach. You see the evidence on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram - but you can’t access it.
The only trouble is, I'm not a teenager. I am 36 years old. I have three children. And for all the emotional equilibrium I can achieve when checking my phone, I might as well still be in high school.
Like I said, I love social media. When I’m depressed I often turn to it, to reach out for a bit of comfort and ease my mind. Of course it doesn’t work so well when it’s also the reason I’m depressed. Which is often. All the connections, all the people, all the socialness. A tweet from someone I like and admire thrills me. A tweet to them going un-replied devastates me. Seeing them chat to other people consumes me with jealousy. It’s insane and it’s shameful and dear god is it really worth it? Is it worth the frustration and the envy and the sadness?
I’m a professional man, a husband and a father; I thought becoming those things would mean I could stop worrying about whether the cool kids liked me. Thanks to social media, I don’t think I ever will.
Is it like this for everyone? Do you all suffer like this? Do you panic over what people on social media are thinking about you, and despair over lacking the courage to quit it, and feel desperately guilty about what a pathetic first-world problem this even is? I hope I’m not the only one…though I don’t wish this nonsense on my worst enemies - who are, of course, all on Twitter.
I need to log off. I need to delete my account. Before I lose it permanently, I need to give this insidious self-destructive behaviour up.
But it’s really great for the career, you see…
Ben Pobjie is a writer, comedian and poet.