My love/hate relationship with social media

Two years ago as I made the exciting step from, ‘person who scribbles words onto a page’ to, ‘published author’ (basically the same thing except someone is willing to pay you to do it), my editor suggested that I have a go at social media.

As a woman who hadn’t updated her Facebook status since joining in 2003, I felt a flutter of panic when she handed me a document all about the best channels for authors to erm, channel.

‘I’ve just joined Twitter and it’s quite good fun,’ she said with smiling encouragement.

‘Great,’ I replied with false cheer. ‘I’ll give it a go.’

And give it a go I did. After an exhausting morning setting up an author page on Facebook, I was spent.

I know.

Ridiculous.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that the exercise involved finding a decent photograph of my face (there are only three pictures of myself in existence that I actually like and I have used them all for author material) or writing something interesting about myself. It just felt like such a chore.

I am by nature self-deprecating (you will know this if you’ve read any of my other blog posts) and prone to outbursts of juvenile humour when faced with a) a compliment or b) the need to promote myself and my books.

But the days of people pottering in bookshops and finding my novels by joyful accident are long gone. I was an eBook author (I am now in print too) so online was the way to go.  You’ve got to sell it and sell it hard (sorry, just made myself giggle there) so I knew that I couldn’t stop with Facebook.

After a much-needed fish finger sandwich and a joyous half hour reading Nora Ephron, my sanity was restored. I was ready to face Twitter. Nora Ephron was behind me. She would have owned Twitter in her heyday. So would Jane Austen. And Dorothy Parker. I could do this. I resolved to be more positive and less like a grumpy teenager. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. I already had material from my Facebook page and there’s a reason Bill Gates invented ‘copy & paste.’ I’m not going to argue with Bill.

And Twitter is fun. There’s always something going on; an interesting article to read or an engaging person with whom to chat (plus the occasional weirdo chucked in for good measure). It has its own culture and etiquette and for the most part, people are kind and generous. If you are kind and generous in return, the rewards are there. It’s a souped-up version of real life; vibrant and alive and full of ideas (and weirdos).

But it can quickly become all-consuming. I’ve spent too much time reading something and nothing on social media, searching for goodness knows what when actually, I could have been offline reading (or indeed writing) a good book.

I’ve also read exchanges on Twitter and Facebook, where the conversation has become heated very quickly, where people deliberately seek to wind-up, annoy and ultimately hurt others. In some instances it’s plain trolling but in others, it’s normally rational people saying things they don’t mean as if they’ve taken leave of their senses. Frankly, it’s terrifying. This social media world isn’t for me. It’s too much.

I often wonder why people don’t just walk away and press the ‘off’ button in these instances. This kind of social media seems like an increasingly harmful addiction.

People’s brains are continuously active but not actually doing and we’re rapidly forgetting how to just be. We seem to constantly need to interact but not in person. We seem to need to communicate but not with individuals. We want to talk to the whole world at once but what happens if the whole world starts shouting back at us?

Nothing is private, nothing is off the agenda; everything is revealed, discussed and dissected. It’s exhausting and often damaging.

This was part of the inspiration for my new book, Life or Something Like It. My main character, Cat Nightingale has an impressive career in PR, is single, childless and blissfully happy. Social media is the foundation to everything she does and she can’t recall a life before it. Everything changes when a PR launch goes disastrously wrong and Cat has to take an enforced career break. This coincides with her brother needing someone to look after his two children over the summer. Suddenly, Cat has to look at life beyond the iPhone and it changes her forever.

So for me, social media is a big (mostly fun) party. But I don’t always want to be at a party.

Sometimes I want to just be, with my family, with my friends or in my brain. I want to press the ‘off’ button and see what happens. I want to watch Britain’s Got Talent with my kids without having to comment on Amanda Holden’s hair or watch the new series of Modern Family with my husband without having to declare whether it’s better than the last. I want to stare out of the window and dream up an idea for my next book.

I love going to parties but I love staying at home too. It’s the best of both worlds; social media is always there but so is the ‘off’ button. You’ve just got to learn to press it sometimes.

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24 thoughts on “My love/hate relationship with social media

  1. Hi Annie, I am so with you on this. I have taken a break from it all this last month and it has helped me to re-evaluate the worth of social media for me. I’m feeling a lot less inundated by it all now and feel I now know where to focus my efforts 🙂 It sounds like you’ve had a good summer too from your posts.

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  2. I couldn’t agree more. I use Twitter a lot because I like it, but I wouldn’t if I didn’t, and I only tweet from my laptop, at home; I’m not one of those who are forever at it, with their phones (I haven’t even got that sort of phone!). I do like social networking – I used to love MySpace but I think Facebook is bloody awful. You should just do what feels right for you, I think; I don’t get involved with any daft trolling stuff or arguments, I just stick around nice people who post interesting things I want to read about.

    You’re so right about people not being able to just ‘be’ anymore. I hate seeing all those people tapping away on their phones on trains, instead of looking out of the window. And why does everyone have to be in touch, all the time??? I take four x 4/5 day breaks from the whole internet each year, when I go to stay with my father – it’s nice, just to slow down. Incidentally, if you’re interested in being featured on my astrology feature (I saw you had RTd it!), please send me a DM with your email and I’ll send you the details! Katie O has done me a good piece 🙂 No worries if it’s not your sort of thing, just thought I’d ask 🙂

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    1. Thanks Terry – I’ve had such a huge response to this post so it’s good to know that we’re not alone. I completely agree about the tapping on the phone rather than looking at the world thing – that makes me plain sad sometimes. Thanks for the offer of a feature – I’m not an astrology expert by any means but would love to take part if you’ll have me. I’ll DM you my e-mail…

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  3. I know what you mean. The off button is my friend. I don’t use my cell phone to connect…I love WordPress because most of the people I’ve met are kind…I like twitter as a diversion and I do use Google+ although I haven;t a clue as to why it exists at all…and I’ve recently joined Facebook for a time limited project.

    Good post. Thanks…

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    1. You’re welcome, Robert. I think it’s heartening to know that we share similar feelings about it and that we’ve got one finger on the ‘off’ button. I also agree about not using the phone – I find it so much easier on my laptop, although that might be something to do with my eyesight!

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  4. I so agree with you. FB overwhelms me. When I’m overwhelmed I go to FB, a vicious circle. It is very addicting and exhausting. And like that constant party. There’s always something new and delightful down the page. It’s also a pain to try to promote your work on here because you have to pay for people to see it from your author page. Thanks for writing this.

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  5. I love this post. I feel like a defiant teenager on days (or weeks) when I just say no to social media – and who didn’t love being a defiant teenager? We can’t create if all we do is consume. We need to also experience.

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  6. i do wonder what the value is of much of the stuff we see on Twitter. it feels so ephemeral and yet to do it correctly involves so much effort as you discovered. As for the quality of some ‘interactions’ I feel people seem to leave half their brains behind when they respond to a post. They say things in anger on social media they wouldn’t dream of saying if the person were standing in front of them

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    1. Very true. There is this worrying detachment when people are in front of a screen – I am hoping that we’re still in the early days of social media so that over time this will get better as people re-discover the value of the face-to-face conversation. That’s certainly what I’m trying to teach my daughter as she starts to use it!

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  7. Great stuff, Annie! I enjoyed a bit of a social media detox over the summer, only popping in very occasionally, mainly because our teens are quite disciplined with screen time (they’re not angels but they try their best) and so thought it only fair that I wasn’t glued to one myself. And it’s been rather refreshing. Hope I’ve got a better handle on writing v social media time now. We’ll see if it lasts… : )

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    1. That sounds like a brilliant idea! I had a bit of a detox too as I was on holiday in a place with little wifi access – on the days I completely ignored it, I felt so relaxed. Fingers crossed we can keep up an acceptable balance and good luck! x

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  8. Totally agree. I wrote a blog about this very issue. It’s the social comparison aspect that drives me nuts. I find the whole affair truly uncomfortable. I cope with Twitter better and have pretty much abandoned my fb though I know it’s a little foolish to.

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    1. I know what you mean. As a writer Twitter takes precedence for me and I post on my FB author page as and when I have time – it’s difficult to fit it all in when actually you need to be getting on with the real business of writing too!

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