One thing that’s impossible to do is to keep track of how often you don’t think about something.
By the very nature of tracking it (or not) you force yourself to think about it, and you only realise you haven’t thought about something when the thought happens: a sort of analytical Schrödinger’s cat for the mind.
This might be a bit much for a Monday morning, but let’s see where we go.
Arguably the best, healthiest friendships are those where you don’t keep track. You don’t keep track of when you last spoke, or who initiated contact, who paid for lunch or bought a drink. You just enjoy time together, when you both can.
Similarly you don’t keep track of how many friends you’ve got (or how you define them).
As soon as you start this you begin to analyse, to compare. To change, to act.
Most people on social media present a version of themselves – even if it is is subconsciously. Because we haven’t (yet) reached the stage where every moment of our lives is streamed online, what we share is inevitably filtered.
Facebook gives us somewhere to hide in full view. To pretend to be there, as Sherry Turkle wrote:-
“Whenever there is time to write, edit and delete there is room for performance.”
If a smartphone was almost anything else it might be considered a tool for mindfulness (and indeed software exists to make it so). See how people lose themselves so easily on trains and buses, in bars and cafes. That sort of zonal thinking is normally only associated with deep meditation; and yet do we return from such reverie feeling positive and refreshed?
Instead we immerse ourselves in the edited highlights of others’ lives. We see their most interesting updates, their posed photos, their fight for approval. We compare the mundane aspects of our only lives with the carefully selected moments of someone else’s.
The only expected result can be feelings of inadequacy. Feelings of resentment, jealousy. We are spending an unnatural time in one another’s lives, failing to reserve those vital moments to spend time with ourselves.
Perhaps there’s a fear of introspection. A fear of asking ourselves “Am I OK?”. Easier to hue green with envy or red with anger at another than to wonder, independently, how we might feel.
Perhaps slightly surprisingly, after all that, I’m not suggesting giving up Facebook, or social media, for a second.
I get a great deal of benefit from my Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin accounts. Too much to want to give-up. I learn about events, meet people, encounter new ideas. I share my own (reasonably edited) highlights, and enjoy seeing those of friends.
But I’m also reasonably ruthless with the information I allow myself to see…
The ‘unfollow’ button is your friend
Throughout life we encounter people we might just about want to keep in distant touch with (perhaps care enough about to not forget but probably would never make any effort to meet). The pre-social media equivalent is someone to whom you’d send a Christmas card but wouldn’t lose any sleep over if you didn’t get one back.
Filter who, and what, you see. On both Facebook and Twitter you can hide all updates from certain people without the indignity of unfriending them, assuming you wish to cause no offense.
Reduce the frequency with which you delve into the lives of others and increase the frequency with which you delve into your own; and if you’re scared to do so then there’s even more reason why you should.
There are many positives to social media, as a connector, as a way of sharing information, forging and maintaining friendships. But there is also a whirlpool of negativity, self-doubt and misery to be found.
As with anything else, the important thing is knowing when to stop.
Photo credit: davide vizzini