In ancient times, on first hearing about the idea of people using computers to make friends online, I remember feeling a glow of pride for us as a species (I really did).
At that time, it felt as though the age of technology could be the end of conversation, communication and togetherness. My pride, was in the notion that we had been able to take something potentially isolating: like having a fold up computer at home and turn it into a tool for community. I remember thinking 'I should have had more faith in us. I should have known we'd use it for good...'
There was a big gap between hearing about this phenomenon and being in a position to join in, for me. And then an equally large gap between being in a position to join in on social media platforms and actually joining. When it came to me personally, I wasn't sure I understood why I should get involved. My biggest fears being judgement and the thought of putting myself out there only to never be able to take it back and hide in anonymity. I still think hard before I post anything and I think that's a good thing, its also very me!
Over time I have learned to keep reminding myself to keep a self-compassionate eye on my dance of engagement with the web. The internet like so many of the external things we encounter, is a mirror. I can discover mermaids are real if I want to, or that vampires live down the road, with videos available to prove it. Whatever I need to be 'true' the internet has got my back. This goes for dodgy and fake 'facts' as well as how I choose to regard and talk to myself.
Before consciously teaching myself how to use social media in a way that would work for me, I would often feel a gloomy hollowness sink into me like dark ink blotting out onto paper, when I put something of myself out in the world, via the internet. I don't think I am alone in having experienced this.
Using the internet to share thoughts, art, ideas and works can trigger so many jangling, discordant and conflicting feelings. The process of sharing can magnify insecurity and become an amplifier for the shadowy and unfiltered ideas my subconscious mind holds up to me about my lack of worthiness to take part in this constantly changing gallery, magazine and market place. When I saw myself experiencing these feelings each time I put something online I decided to step back and think about a fair usage policy for myself...
When the web became a difficult place to be, I would notice this about myself: On posting, I felt a sense of relief for having completed whichever task I needed to complete to be able to share it. I felt pleased with myself for the 'completion'. Excited usually and nervous about how it might be received. Quite quickly I felt a creeping angst and impatience taking over me: I would need to know what the feedback for my offering was instantly. So I would check. Often. Reports might say . '12 people have viewed...' They might say '120 people have viewed...' It did not matter, because I will still wanted to know that the next time I would check -which would always be soon-the report would show an increase in viewings/likes/comments.
My subconscious brain got very excited at this point. It LOVED that it could tell me that whatever it is I had to share wasn't enough: not bold enough, not stand out enough, not true enough... Because the 1 or 100 views and 'likes' simply highlighted all the absences. All the people who didn't click, look or comment. And then I would get ratty. Ratty at the indifference of the internet. Ratty for thinking myself worthy and putting that stupid thing up online in the first place and then even more ratty at myself for making it matter so much. Because it doesn't, not in the way I was trying to make it matter and it was always ME making it such a big deal...
If I choose to let my subconscious mind help me govern how I use the internet then it becomes a dark and difficult place, where I am trapped in a grim cycle of emotional dependency on never-manifested validation. I walk the path of peeping into the lives of others to compare myself to them, again looking for evidence about myself and my lack of qualification to participate in this sphere. Basically, I beat myself up for not being a mermaid yet.
Let my conscious, rational, adult and able-to-be-self-compassionate mind be in charge, and I sit easily with the simple reality: I get to choose. I get to think about how I scroll or don't scroll. How I regard and explore the online lives of others and how they relate or don't relate to my life. I get to choose how often in a week/day/month/year I visit social media pages. I get to set the time I spend. If I notice that I use these places to feel bad about myself, I get to stop engaging. I get to decide what fair use is for and to myself.
When I felt proud of us as a species and the way we use the internet, I was right. It is a great tool for community. It is a beautiful place for ideas to be shared and freak flags to be flown! Its a great place for socialising with and even confiding in people you would never otherwise have met, a place to find your people and be accepted for the truth of who you are. I love using it and can't imagine myself without it. The convenient immediacy of being able to maintain friendships over seas and lands, the safeness of the space for sharing work is invaluable. All of these aspects make it so very seductive and hard to banish.
My decision to be more intentional about how I use the internet emerged organically. It feels so obvious on this side of my reflections. There is nothing else I recognise in my life that I keep doing if it makes me feel rotten about myself or induces such intense impulsive behaviours - and if there is, I need to take a long look at it and try to unpick what lies beneath, but crucially stop doing it. It feels appropriate and healthy to think through and shift my perspective on how to engage with myself and others through the web. As with anything of this sort, it takes effort and mindful focus but it really helps!
How does your engagement with the web/social media make you feel?
How do you feel when you reach for it?
What are you telling yourself about yourself when you use it?