Wednesday, 5 August, 2015

On 15 March 2015, I quit social media. The effects were immediate and unprecedented.

I found inner peace. I began to love myself more. Life literally became more real – until I realised that this ‘reality’ was as unpalatable as illusion, and I was most definitely not a better person for it. I was merely more self-righteous. And so on March 16 I shrunk back to my pocket of digital oblivion, feeling filthy. Every status, tweet and image cohered as a panorama of debauchery in my mind. It was like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, my damnation writ large.

There is an overwhelming sense that we Young Narcissists should feel guilty about our use of social media. It has become another absolute Evil – alongside Crocs and gluten-rich products.

No doubt, there are some legitimate motivations for wanting to commit virtual suicide. We’ve literally seen it all: the brunches, the bodies, the boozing. Thank you to the feisty girl on my train the other day who, in summoning all the moral fortitude she could muster, deftly captured the sentiment as follows: “I mean, I love me too, but you don’t see me shoving me in your face, do you?”

That’s not even mentioning the physical effects of excessive social media use. Chiropractors, physiotherapists – hell, someone – must be in league with Apple or Android developers. Our necks are truly butchered, our backs permanently bent. Everybody clutching their smart phones in silent homage. Everybody anchored to a tiny ubiquitous despot: the screen.

Now: behold the devout language that permeates our debates on social media use. Your friend is on a digital detox. Your cousin’s on a cyber cleanse. Perhaps you are on a social media sabbatical. What we are witnessing is an imperative towards asceticism, a flourish of fundamentalism that invokes the philosophies of born-again Paleo advocate Pete Evans. And the message is clear: repent or be damned! This thinking stems from a desire to intervene in our matrix of digital communication – a laudable desire, for sure. However, by harking back to a notion of authentic ‘realness’, this strategy of digital ‘detoxing’ resembles a romantic delusion. Debates around social media can be contextualised within broader discourses surrounding technology and communication. And in this case, the issue is not so much one of mediation but integration. How can ‘switching off’ Facebook or Twitter be revolutionary if, like Andy Warhol, we “don’t know where the artificial stops and the real starts”?

We rarely watch Q&A without participating in it – often by way of Twitter taunts about the contortions of Christopher Pyne’s face. We rarely meet people without having first given them a little stalk (can skull beers through a snorkeler; owns an impressive range of bikinis; single). We rarely play the seduction game without the accompanying text warfare. In any case, it’s clear that the digital is not some kind fantastical realm happening over there. It’s right here, right now. Conversations proceed in staccato, but not because social media interrupts. It punctuates.

Of course, many people are ‘off’ Facebook or Twitter or Instagram – and happily so. Now they don’t have the pleasure of witnessing how much fun everyone is having everywhere at every moment. However, when the digital and the material have so completely collapsed into one another, we are kidding ourselves if we believe that such a withdrawal represents a return to ‘reality’.

So I quit social media for a day. The result? I had considerably more time to do the following: check and respond to emails; stalk the LMS (because I have a life); Google a newly discovered word (see previous comment); transfer money to a friend; check my Myki balance; rummage for jobs on Gumtree (in that order). I was switched-off, but somehow still so switched-on.