Going Social: Pleasure or Pain?

Version 2

Three years can be a tricky juncture in any relationship (be it a romantic one, a business affair or a friendship).

Year One is always all shiny and new, naturally. Stars are aligned, bonds are formed; someone (or something), before unknown to us, becomes woven into our lives – and is given a starring role.

We’re curious. We’re in discovery mode.

Year Two is a test to that novelty – the limits of our curiosity – but is also an opportunity to establish a pattern, possibly many patterns: the way “we” do things. There can be great comfort in that.

We’ve got a bit of the measure of things. We might even be starting to feel secure in our relationship.

But Year Three is the real test because it tends to beg the deeper questions: are we in this for the long haul, then? Are we going to keep going? Can you keep me interested? Can I live in your world order?

Is this it?

According to a cursory Google search, the average marriage (that ends in divorce) lasts eight years, the average job lasts five years and the average friendship, most shocking of all, perhaps, seven years (marking the time when I guess you can consider yourself officially “unfriended”).

Against that data, three years in – just approaching, or passing, a relationship’s likely midpoint – feels about the right time to start having a little existential angst about its shelf life.

In the workplace, chances are you’re going to be on the move in two years, and it could, in all honesty, take you two years to set up the next thing you actually really want to do, so it’s a good time to ask yourself if you’re work happy, to ask for more training, ask for that promotion or start brushing up your CV.

Romantically, if you haven’t already committed in some form or another, chances are at three years one of you will almost certainly be looking for some symbol of enduring togetherness, whether that’s in the form of a baby, a property, a French bulldog, holy (or unholy) matrimony or their name inked on your neck for all the world to see.

And that’s why it’s a good time to ask yourself if you’re really sure you like the look of where it’s all going.

Thankfully, rarely are such symbols of commitment obliged in our friendships, though still, three years is a good time to ask yourself if your friendship is mutually benefitting or jointly enabling, or whether their nightly calls or drunken monologue loops every time you go out are a feature of your life you want to retain for, on average, the next four years.

Which brings me to the relationship in my life I’m putting under the spotlight after three years of co-existence: my relationship with social media.

Have I fallen out of love with social media after just three years? Do I mean business on social media? Is it my friend?

I suppose my first question really should be was I ever in love with social media? It took me an awfully long time to be seduced, firstly by Linked In (really as a necessity of my then job and need to look for talent), then by Twitter (again, driven by supporting the business I then worked for and later, driven by supporting my business).

This is the extent of my platform. I always saw Facebook as a bridge too far: the endless possibilities of too many different worlds colliding. Linked In and Twitter give me, in a social media context, a veneer of professionalism.

It all started so well. I thought I’d got it sussed.

Linked In, a professional networking site, was suitable for bald self-promotion, work-related content (and possibly comment) and for connecting with people to pursue business opportunities.

Twitter, by contrast, I’d noticed as a reader, became very dull and repetitive very quickly if the Twitterer gives no sense of their personality, of them actually being a person and not a bot.

Bald self-promotion, only work-related content or comment and only connecting with people to pursue business opportunities was clearly not going to be the strategy for Twitter.

I figured I did need some kind of strategy. Knowing how difficult it can be for me to get into routines, and how the choice of the wrong words has the power, online, to finish you in seconds, I didn’t think I’d be a shoot from the lip brand of Twitterer and I’m not.

That first year I was very brand-compliant, and I enjoyed being in this brave new connected world. It was fun and informing. It helped open new professional avenues. Though hardly prolific – averaging out to about one tweet a day – I was engaging with lots of new people and it was positive and encouraging and all very novel.

True, in Year Two, some of the novelty did wear off a bit. Some International Days and cyclical hashtags were met with welcome recognition, others less so. After Brexit and Trump, the atmosphere, already often highly toxic, had become more so. And I still had to work at it all, doing it – it still wasn’t habit, or automatic, a reflex.

I’d become far less brand compliant when I tweeted too, straying off topic and including more of the random, but still, overall, trying to be positive and constructive.

As in a lot of uncertain relationships only two years in, however, I still wasn’t saying all I was thinking.

But, as I hit my third anniversary (strangely enough, the Leather anniversary by tradition – only they say to give crystal or glass as a gift; leather, presumably, opening up too many options), I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t know what to think.

Is social media a chance to see the world more clearly, or an act of sadomasochism?

I love the principle of it (social media, not S&M), and many people and what they do on it (though why it’s so hard to get the real people I follow to show up in my timeline I’ll never know – if someone does, please tell me), but much of it pains me: I read and wince (or scowl or frown, all very ageing I’m sure).

And it’s not just the outrightly hateful or unhinged that pains me on Twitter. While it’s a great platform for a specific customer complaint, I do find all the carping and criticising (he says, carping and criticising) about, well, everything, very wearing (and, worse, it brings out the dismissive Edina Monsoon* in me – “It might be bad but it ain’t that bad!”).

At heart always an optimist, Twitter gets me down. Yes, there is plenty of uplifting content, but that can make me equally dismissive on repeat: it’s all well and good and all to be the change you want to see in the world, but much easier to say in 280 characters than to do in reality.

As for the uplifting content on Linked In, well, I so haven’t got this sussed and am totally confused about what’s going on on Linked In. Linked In is becoming a sort of soft landing Twitter. Mind you, people are also increasingly vitriolic on Linked In too.

And God forbid you actually try to professionally network on there, connect with someone, request a meeting or send a ‘salesy’ email – people get very sniffy about that now. It seems to all be about content sharing now. Occasionally people say they have job opportunities. Very occasionally some people say they’re looking for job opportunities.

Some people share pictures of cake.

Wouldn’t it all be so much easier if everyone could just stay in their lane? If social media channels could stick to their intended purpose? Everyone’s in on the act everywhere now. Everywhere I turn, I’m met with unsolicited opinion (more often than not, half-baked, over-simplified, non-contextualised opinion – and that’s from the smart people). 

I remain very restrained. Open-mouthed but silent mostly. I’ve fallen out of the habit, too, when it comes to tweeting. Whereas, for a time, I’d frequently get sucked in and it would distract me from my work (while I was still considering it was part of my work), lately, happily, my work distracts me from it. I think of something to tweet and then I think better of it. Get on with something else (the real work).

I can’t keep that (apparently, old American) saying “It’s for the birds,” out of my head. It’s of no consequence.

(Funny, when, in reality, with the most powerful man in the world tweeting fire and fury on a daily basis, it couldn’t be of more consequence right now.) 

But I think my solution is a matter of frequency. It’s impossible to tune out all the horse shit on social media. Perhaps it would be blinkered to. Do I have to swim in it every day, however? No, I don’t.

So, after three years together, I’m changing the dynamic of our relationship. I’m ‘seeing’ social media. We’re not living together. We’re not committed in any way. It’s a really casual thing. We’re giving each other more space.

I’m not ready to walk away for good, but I’m more than happy to take a few steps back hoping, that way, I can get a healthier perspective on it all. With a bit of space, maybe I’ll be able to hear the birdsong again, not just the discordant chirping of too many angry birds.

*See Absolutely Fabulous, S03Ep04 ‘Jealous’

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