I think I’ve reached a point where I want out of this divided society. Remember the days where people had different opinions, but that was okay? The days before hacked elections and feed algorithms. The days where people would have an opinion, and maybe not agree with someone else – but that was normal, and it didn’t stop them being your friend, or your neighbour, or your colleague. There was no need to cancel them for thinking in a different way.
I’m an older Millennial. I got my first mobile phone at 12, and have lived through the explosion of social media, smartphones and the rise of tech giants. I was at high school when the internet first became a thing that people started to have in their homes (remember that dial-up tone?). I watched mobile phones get smaller and smaller, then larger and larger again. I remember when Facebook was only available for college students, and when MSN messenger and old-school forums were how we kept in touch. The internet was fun, back then. It was people-led, community focused.
As I grew older, my life became entwined in technology. We are the last generation to remember life before the internet, who recall watching this amazing, intangible, invisible ‘thing’ grow and change and become accessible for all. We were the first to get smartphones. The first to spend hours, or even days, feeling slightly naughty for torrenting a song over LimeWire or BitTorrent (I imagine). I’m old enough that my WordPress app doesn’t believe that ‘torrenting’ is an actual word and is putting red squiggly lines all over the place.
Somewhere along the way, tech reached a point where it became our lives. I used to think of the internet as a separate thing that I could choose to use at my convenience. Sometime over the last decade or so, this has flipped on its head. The internet now uses me.
We didn’t know what would happen. The funny kids of OG YouTube, the geocities gif warriors, the forum posters. Those who used to Ask Jeeves rude questions and stored homework on a floppy disk. We embraced this tech as a new friend, as a tool to make life easier. No-one would ever imagine that it would grow to affect our lives every second of every day.
There is no online and offline any more. When I step away from my phone, I still think about my phone. I think about taking a photo just to put it on Instagram. I look at something and think ‘this would be good to post on Facebook’ (yep, I’m the age that still uses Facebook and is slightly confused by Snapchat and TikTok). I keep up with what people are doing via a glowing screen, not by actually talking to them.
I watched a documentary called ‘The Social Dilemma’ last night, ironically on Netflix – which I remember used to be a postal DVD rental service. It wasn’t the whole ‘social media is ruining our lives’ bit that got me. I’ve deleted and reinstated my accounts more times than I can count. Instead, it was something that Jaron Lanier said. He described the adage of ‘if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product’ as being too simplistic. Instead, the product is slow, unnoticeable behaviour change.
I watched the documentary, then my husband came home and I watched it again with him. I downloaded my data and deleted my Instagram and Facebook accounts right then and there. Fully deleted. Twitter is going today. Reddit? Deleted. I’m tired of being part of this experiment that is having real-world consequences. Society is at loggerheads and we can all see it happening. Something is not right.
How long has my behaviour been affected by the increasing integration of my daily life with social media and personal technology? I don’t know. I don’t know the person I am without all of this tech. I know I hate the twitch to reach for my phone first thing in the morning. I started leaving it off, in the office, overnight a few weeks ago. Everything in my life is apps, socials, tech. Google listens to our conversations and tracks where I go and who I’m near and asks what I think of the road I’ve just driven down. Spotify analyses every bit of music I play. Every keystroke I make, every millisecond I look at a photo online.
I know that I’m just one infinitesimal data point amidst an ocean of others. It’s not the data that I really mind about. It’s playing a part in a machine that is hurting people in the real world. It’s being fuel for the fire that is breaking society apart. It’s not knowing who I would be without this reliance on someone or something else making decisions for me, so subtly that I haven’t even realised. I’ve always thought of social media as a place to look at other people’s photos and keep up with them. But it isn’t. Not really.
As I type this, I realise that my blog is fully integrated with Google analytics. That I’m choosing to put this writing out on the internet, in its current form today. I’m adding to that infinite sea of voices and opinions. Yoast is telling me to link to other sites, to write specific words so I will appear higher up a list in Google, to add more links to other posts I have written so that I’ll seem more ‘authentic’. At the same time it is also telling me my writing style is terrible and to change it to something that it has suggested (I’m not going to, Yoast. Ha. Put up with my terrible writing!).
I’m tired of it all. This is something different to nostalgia for a rose-tinted, internet-free past. I’m worried about the way the world is heading. I don’t want to spend my time thinking in terms of virtual connection and made-up metrics. I’m a person who doesn’t know who she is without technology. That is terrifying. So I’m stepping out of social media. In the words of ‘the youth’ today, I just can’t.
How will this affect my blog? How will it affect my self-esteem? What am I going to do with 6 more hours of free time each day? I imagine I will manage to finish a large amount of books and actually get some work done for my university course, finally. I’ll be able to stop writing about social media, at the very least…