Rethinking our relationship with Social Media
- In conversation with Harriet & Jana -
Did the blackout make you panic? Or did you embrace the peace?
Last Monday at around 4:00 PM GMT, social media platforms Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram blacked out, and it seemed that the world went into meltdown without them. Harriet and I reflect on what we were up to during the six hours they were down and how it affected us in this time, if at all.
How did you find out?
H: I had been out most of the day, so didn’t actually notice until around 7 pm as I hadn’t been on my phone. I only noticed when I tried to put up a post for a social media page I manage. I initially thought it was just mine that was down but was later told it was global! Living where I do in Wales, it's not uncommon for the internet to be down, so it was quite exciting knowing it wasn't just us for a change!
J: Yes, I also thought the same. I thought it was just my phone or my wifi, but I probably noticed around 4ish but I wasn't very phased.
How did it make you feel?
H: I felt a sense of calm and peacefulness. We’re available 24/7 these days, and it’s made me realise how important it is to just take a break and breathe! We live online and are expected to jump up and reply as soon as we hear that “ping!” Which isn’t healthy for us! We should be able to live our lives and not have our attention rudely snatched away from the real world as soon as the phone lights up! It was a really nice feeling just to know that you could sit and connect with whoever you were with and there wasn’t going to be any distractions for either party!
J: Yes, I think we feel exactly the same about this actually Harriet. I think sometimes having our phone with us all the time does feel like a constant invasion of our own bubble or definitely, it can feel like that sometimes. To be honest though, other than the mild lack of notifications, I didn't really notice it was down so it didn't really make me feel any kind of way but the peace was definitely welcome.
It made me realise how important it is to just take a break
What did it stop you from doing and what did you do instead?
J: It stopped me from being distracted from my evening, meaning that Squid Game had my full attention and I didn't have to keep rewinding it to understand what was going on; so actually it was beneficial for me.
H: Yeah I completely agree, it was nice to focus all my attention on what I was doing instead of being distracted! It also stopped me from being able to post updates onto a climbing page I manage for our members, so I was a little concerned that they weren’t getting the information they needed for the event going ahead. But I prepped the posts as best I could and accepted that they would go up as soon as it was possible, and there was nothing I could do about it in the meantime; so I switched off and spent the evening chilling and watching a film with my family.
Do you feel it affected you badly?
J: Not in the slightest. Social media is one of those things for me where I live with it and I think it definitely has its uses in my life, but I could very very easily, and quite contentedly, live without it.
H: I completely agree with you there! Other than the work side of things, it didn’t affect me badly at all! Other than the extra workload the next day where I had a backlog of work-related messages and queries. But I got through them, so no harm done.
I put myself first and decided to focus my time and attention
on my family
Did you panic?
H: I initially thought it was just mine, and I was worried I’d be letting people down by not being able to post the important updates on the work side of things, so I went to message to see if someone else could put the updates up for me instead. As this didn’t work, I soon realised it was global, and felt a sense of calm. I put myself first and decided to focus my time and attention on my family, which was so lovely, and needed!
J: Yes, I love this, I did exactly the same actually. I mean I took one look at my phone, realised it wasn't working and put it down again. It didn't really dawn on me that it was a problem until the next day when I saw all the memes did I realise how much some people were struggling/freaking out that it had gone down. Which in my opinion was madness, I don't really think it was a cause for panic, was it?
How did people around you react?
H: It was strange to watch but my mam got so many texts and calls from her friends not knowing what to do! It was interesting to see how much social media affects people’s lives. It’s given me a bit of perspective and made me want to make a conscious effort to cut back on my usage of it. I realised how for some people it may have forced them to connect with the people in their lives in person, and this will make relationships stronger. So, if this happens again, I say we embrace it! I think we should make a conscious decision to put social media down from time to time and try something new. Because it’s clear to me now how much we rely on it.
J: Oh my gosh, yes! I think you've articulated it so well there. It was actually my mum as well that was freaking out about it. Not full-on-having-a-meltdown freaking out, but she was getting quite frustrated that she wasn't able to show me this one thing on Facebook right then and there, immediately. I agree though Harriet, I think we do just have to embrace it. The background demands from social media are constant and I think being forced to take a break from it was great. I don't feel like enough people realise it yet.
The background demands from social media are constant... So, if
this happens again, I say we embrace it!
How did you feel when it came back online?
J: I don't think I noticed. I think I was in bed reading my book. Honestly, having a real think about it and us having this discussion about how made us feel is making me feel old, or perhaps a bit out of the loop. I think it kind of scares me how much people rely on social media, and it scares me that people won’t know how to communicate in person anymore, and I think that's bizarre. When I really put my mind to it, I think social media and its potential is pretty scary. Fantastic and amazing, but scary.
H: We were exactly the same in my house! When we came back online none of my family noticed as we were so caught up chatting and enjoying an evening together! Then my mam’s phone went crazy with notifications (Yes it’s a little embarrassing that she is more popular than I am but we won’t dwell on that!). I posted the things I needed to, replied to the official page messages making sure everyone get where they needed to. Then I switched my phone off again and carried on enjoying my evening. You've also worded that really well, it can be quite alarming how much it consumes our lives, and being aware of that is definitely a good thing.
Do you think there are any good points contrary to your view on the matter?
H: As someone that enjoyed switching off and having those moments of clarity, I did realise how hard it must have been for some people. My mam’s friend lives alone and her only daughter moved back to Dubai a few months ago. Their main source of contact is Facebook messenger. Over lockdown, while she had Covid it had enabled her to feel less isolated, and still be able to connect with her friends. This affected her negatively as she was cut off from the world without really understanding what was happening. So I understand how much of a powerful tool it is to keep people connected, and secure.
J: Of all things I have just said, I do think the powers of social media are incredible. I think perhaps for people that didn't really understand what was going on like your family friend Harriet, that must have been slightly daunting. But I do also think that social media, beyond it's ability to connect people, can be a great educational resource. I know for me personally, particularly in the past couple of years, I have learnt a great deal from infographics on Instagram and people on Facebook.
And when it comes to Matriarch, what would we do with out it? Being able to connect so many people in a way to show them how they are not alone in how they feel, is so important and powerful. It makes being a part of a community so much more accessible and we are lucky to live in a generation with such easy access to that. That said, it is important for us to switch off. To live in the real world. To reconnect with the people around us, and to understand that it’s ok to not be available to the world 24/7.
We need to learn how to take a break from the real world, not take a break from social media.
Take it slow, be present, and embrace the peace and quiet.
If you want to know more, click the links below for some extra reading, :))
Facebook down: Zuckerberg apologises for six-hour outage
The facts on our digital and internet addiction and the need for digital detox
It's Not All Bad: The Social Good of Social Media