A while back, I took a long break from social media. I left myself out of the loop for a couple of months because I was overwhelmed, wasn’t coping well and felt like my online world was a big mess of obligation and crap. I realised that feeling that way meant that I was doing social media wrong.
I’d misstepped and followed a tangent trail too many. I’d gotten lost in the vastness of cyberspace and I was pretty sure that George Clooney was not going to show up with a jetpack and propel me back to safety. Although, that would have been nice. Sandra Bullock gets everything.
I realised that if I wanted to enjoy interacting online again, then some things were going to have to change. Living with CRPS means that I spend a lot of time alone at home. Without the internet, that time can feel as isolating as the situation literally is. Connecting with other people online isn’t just an escape, it’s an adventure, a journey and a way to explore the world when illness is trying to keep me hostage.
I set out to create a my own little corner of cyberspace in which I not only felt comfortable, but also enriched, inspired, entertained and appreciated. I reflected on the ways that I had been upset by online interactions in the past and how I might have approached things differently, or reacted more effectively. I considered the types of posts that tended to make things twitch in the this-is-so-annoying corner of my brain and the types of posts that made me ponder, or giggle, stuff that left me happy that I checked my news feeds that day.
I recognised that in the years that I have been blogging and using social media, I have been through several different phases in how I use different platforms and how I connect with other people.
And, at times, I’ve been a dick. Let’s just get that out in the open. I’m sure many people can relate to having been a dick at least once before they learned better.
Phase 1: Reciprocate or die
Six or so years ago, social media was small enough that it was easy to slide into a community of people interested in a certain subject and make new friends. I started blogging and soon after, I was Facebook friending others with CRPS and it was easy to get to know one another through updates and chats. I predominantly tweeted with others from Melbourne and felt like I was a part of my local online community, even though I was rarely out in the real one.
My Twittering pattern used to consist of something like “follow somebody that looks interesting, wait to see if they follow back, unfollow if they don’t want to be friends”. I was only interested in following people who were interested in following me because that felt fair and worthy of my time. If somebody dared to unfollow me, I’d unfollow them right back, feeling hurt and betrayed over some unspoken agreement that never existed.
I’d be hurt if somebody that I never interacted with unfriended or unfollowed me and I’d continue following people that I regularly found annoying or uninteresting out of a sense of obligation.
It all felt so personal.
Phase 2: Please like me
This phase mainly applied to blogging. Anybody who has ever bothered to write a blog has wondered about just how successful they can be. It’s really easy to get addicted to stats. They are a popularity poll that gets updated on a daily basis, after all, who wouldn’t want to see those numbers go up?
Advice from bloggers to bloggers often proclaims that exposure and interaction are everything and that more interaction will lead to more exposure. Yep, this is true. However, in following these steps to success, I found myself wandering blindly in a bunch of bloggers who mostly wanted nothing but to offer over the top appreciation in expectation that it would be returned. A comment wasn’t a thoughtful contemplation inspired by the content of a post, it was a currency for return comments. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours is all good and well in theory, however how much does attention really mean if it’s only for returned attention’s sake?
I ended up with an RSS feed filled with blogs that I really wasn’t very interested in. The biggest category for personal blogging is parenting and I am not a parent. I was reading all about the children of people that I’d never even met. I followed fashion bloggers even though I didn’t really care about fashion trends. I wanted to support others in the hope that they’d support me. In retrospect, it was all a little bit silly.
I don’t mean to imply that I’m not interested in parents or dresses, some of my best friends are parents or dresses and some of my favourite bloggers write about their children or their dresses. I only mean to say that I don’t have room to be interested in every parent or dress that decides to start a blog.
The truth is, I wanted to be in the in crowd.
Phase 3: Let them all in
Time passed, as it always does. More and more blogs devoted to chronic illnesses began to appear. More and more blogs written by writers who were local to me. More and more friend requests came through on Facebook, more and more Twitter followers subscribed. More and more people in all of my feeds. More and more people than I could ever get to know on a personal basis within one lifetime. More and more people who it felt rude to ignore because I was still in a major “reciprocate or die” rut and I hated to be a hypocrite.
You’ve probably already guessed what happened next. Always accepting requests, following back and subscribing meant that my feeds started to flood. My Twitter feed was jumbled garbage, often with fifty people offering useless comments on the same news items. I could no longer get to know new people because their updates got lost in the crowd.
I didn’t feel as though I could just unfollow anybody, because reciprocate or die…and so, I hid. I made short lists for updates from my closest friends and ignored everybody else. This worked for a while, until I realised that I’d thrown out the baby with the bathwater. I’d cut myself off from fulfilling online relationships when I ran away from the pointless ones.
I’d dammed the rivers that brought me regular sources of inspiration.
Phase 4: Hey, you’re interesting!
After taking some time out, I decided to refine all of my social media feeds by taking reciprocation out of the equation. I unsubscribed from the blogs that I always found myself scrolling past anyway. I stopped following people whose tweets annoyed me, depressed me or bothered me for whatever reason. I hid updates from Facebook friends that I never interacted with, or who tended to post a lot of stuff that I didn’t really want to see.
I thought about the ways that different social media platforms are good for different types of sharing and made some conclusions that work for me.
Twitter is for entertaining me. This is usually through humour or poignancy. Only I can decide if following a particular account is enriching my existence or simply flooding my feed. I chose to let go of the idea that reciprocation is necessary for me to enjoy the thoughts of somebody else. I now follow many accounts because they entertain me, regardless of whether or not the other person cares to follow me back. It turns out that somebody doesn’t have to like me back in order for me to find them interesting.
Facebook friendships are for people that are interested in knowing me, who I am also interested in knowing, personally. Some of these are people from the real world, some are people that I’ve had a meaningful, online connection with. I allow subscribers on my personal Facebook account, which means that anybody can feel free to receive my public updates without me having to feel like I need to be friends with everybody who is interested in reading this blog, or who lives with chronic pain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super grateful that anybody finds me interesting at all, it just isn’t a thing that means I have the capacity to reciprocate all of those feelings other than in a thank-you-everybody, or responding-to-specific-comments/messages type of way.
Facebook is also for pages, which I often find a lot more interesting than personal accounts. I follow a lot of pages related to science news, psychology, coping with chronic pain and a vast array of entertainers. Snobs love to announce that they don’t ever check Facebook because they don’t care what that girl from grade 6 had for lunch…but they’re doing it wrong. Creating a Facebook feed that you like isn’t about forcing others to be entertaining by your personal standards, it’s about finding the pages and people that already are.
Thinking like this has helped me to use the Rellacafa page in a more useful way by basically just sharing things that I find interesting in relation to living with CRPS. People can choose to subscribe, or interact, or not, it’s all voluntary and that takes some pressure off of me feeling like I need to impress if I am going to offer things up for public consumption. I’ll just keep sharing what interests me, others can go ahead and decide whether they like that or not.
RSS feeds (I use Feedly) are for blogs and news. I mean, they always have been, it just took me a while to figure out that I could be more discriminating about what I put in there. If I find myself always skipping past posts from the same site then that’s a pretty good sign that I’m not really interested in that feed, even when I kind of think I should be interested. Unsubscribing from filler gives me a lot more time to read and ponder on the posts that I find more enthralling.
Instagram is…just the best. No, really…it’s great. I love snapshots from people’s lives, especially celebrities that are always jet-setting off to another stunning part of the world. I love artistic shots. I love holiday snaps as much as the little daily moments that people capture. I love following outrageous people and interestingly quiet people. I love watching as people’s interests and activities change over time. I even love selfies. Yep. Love ‘em.
Phase 5: The internet is great when your feeds are in order
I no longer feel like I’m drowning in information when I open my social media feeds. I look forward to the updates that I receive and I usually set my iPad down feeling a bit brighter and more informed than when I picked it up. I have more time to read things that teach me about what’s happening in the world, or teach me to understand what’s happening within myself. I have more time to chat with my friends because I’m not obligated to read pages of updates from people that I’ve never really gotten to know.
I even have more room for making new friends. I know, that probably sounds ridiculous when I’m mostly writing about cutting down the number of people that I interact with, but the truth is that not everybody is destined to be everybody else’s best friend. Some people just click, it’s always been like that and the clicks are easier to hear when there’s less buzzing around us. Instead of scrolling past a hundred updates, I’ll actually pay attention to a few and that feels like a more valuable way to spend my time.
I am mostly looking at things that I like, or find challenging, or interesting. Doing so puts me in a different frame of mind than when those goodies were constantly broken up by things that frustrated or annoyed me. I am less judgmental of people in general and that seems to make me care a whole lot less about whether or not somebody wants to judge me for the things that I share online.
I feel free to shower the people that I follow in warm fuzzies. I double tap like crazy when scrolling through my instagram feed because I am just plain enjoying the images and the stories behind them. I star or retweet the tweets that I giggle at or relate to. I like and share the Facebook posts that brightened my day or made me think. I comment on blogs when I have thoughts to share and technical difficulties don’t get in the way.
I just go about the internet, genuinely enjoying what I enjoy and have stopped conditioning my interests based on whether or not that interest is interested in me. My senses of happiness and self worth are no longer tied up in how I am perceived online, or in general. I feel free to think things and express them and what more could I want from a world that exists within minds and machines?
Reciprocate or don’t…I’m still going to go ahead and enjoy you. Unless you block me. Don’t block me. Why would you block me? I promise not to be rude.*
*Too rude. I will, however, walk on the hilarious edge of a joke.
Love & Adaptation,