Oversharers anonymous: The millennial viewpoint
I was about 15 when social media really took off as a thing.
By that age, most - not all - of the embarrassing teenager stuff was out of the way for me, and the bits that weren’t, well, it wasn’t really the ‘done’ thing to share them on the net, but if it was, I probably did. #nofilter before it was even a thing. I remember writing rambling bulletins on MySpace. I remember having heated arguments about depression on piczo.com. (Cringe.) I remember when Bebo was the place to be(bo). I can’t imagine being young now and having it from the word ‘go’. Having to be literate in everything from Snapchat to Twitter and grow up online sounds like no fun – but this is forgetting that all of those platforms are optional, though what teenager understands ‘optional’ over ‘all my friends are doing it’?
I think I came to it at the right time for me. Maybe I feel that way because I don’t know any other way, maybe I genuinely feel it. I’m not sure.
I became used to updating my status. How I felt online was often more honest than if you had asked me in person; while to some it may have looked attention seeking (all right, I was 15, it most probably was a bit), it was actually quite self-aware (if dramatic!).
The problem was that at that age, knowing what to do about it was a big blank, especially if you are painfully anxious/shy, depressed and convinced you might die a chubby virgin with no GCSEs. I could happily go through old profiles and touch my younger face and tell her what was underneath those feelings; 2006 me especially - You’re anxious you’re going to fail. You’re sad that you’re so in love and that it’s unreciprocated. Don’t worry. Just don’t worry about it. It’s all going to be fine. Better things are coming. You’re hormonal. Go get some sleep. You’re panicking. Take some breaths. You’re dramatizing because you don’t want to admit you’re wrong. Stop being an idiot. Get some humility. You will learn so much more from that. Some people never will. You are doing ok.
But maybe I would be able to do the same without social media.
So now, in 2018, how did we end up feeling the need to Instagram, Tweet and Facebook everything? To check in at each location (and casually advertise our empty houses and very disposable millennial-parent-sponge-because-the-mortgage-dream-is-slow-to-realise income) we go to and show off the shiny days of our lives?
To connect. That’s the primary reason. We want to find people who like the same things, who we can argue with about politics, and share our pixel-dinners with.
But we are only ever really flaunting our happy days. You will notice the silence on the not-so-happy days. Or the skint days. Your shiny-toothed profile picture tells the world what you want your life to be, but sometimes the wires don’t match up and you forget why and it all looks like boasting and you are discordant and the pressure to be as happy as the internet says you are piles. The friends who watch you in envy would have your back if you fell but instead you keep up the façade and feel that they must be more perfect, but they were only doing the same thing you were. And so it continues. You feel guilty for having privilege and depression, not realising it is ok to recognise and have both.
It’s ok to leave. The online stage is not compulsory, and it can understandably make mental health problems worse if you feel the entire circle you’re surrounded by is singing and dancing 24/7. Many people do.
There is a lot lately on trolls and cyber bullies…but the thing is that these people will find ways to inflict their sour personalities on people with or without a hard drive. It’s just never been easier to do it and that is a downfall. Know that these people have no joy in their lives and that people laugh when they fall over and you will feel better.
For all of those flaws, social media has expanded my world. I met people I never would have otherwise as I emerged from the bubble-wrap of childhood and found people with other views who weren’t just saying them to belittle my fledgling ideas. I discovered feminism. Politics. It made me realise that I wasn’t an alien, just a different shade of normal and there were matches out there for what I had that weren’t in my small Essex town. It has found me many tribes, some I left when they stopped fitting, like old clothes, some I’m still part of. There are dear, dear people in my life who I would never have met without social media.
And another thing…If I hadn’t had the internet, would I still be body-shaming others to make myself feel better as a matter of natural course? I am still trying to train my brain out of this, but if you look at the adult women in your life who don’t have social media, I am willing to bet you that this is how they approach other women if they aren’t happy with their own body image. I won’t accuse anyone in particular – it is a widespread thing. We are trained to attack each other because that stops us recognising we are more powerful when we are supporting each other, and our patriarchal society does not want its women feeling powerful.
The internet helped me call these things out.
In those nooks and corners of the internet, you make your own space. The trick is to cultivate it. Don’t have soul-suckers on your friends list. Unfollow the people who drain you. If someone, by virtue of constant digital ‘happiness’, makes you feel small, be rid of them. The chances are they are lying but when they are ready to ‘fess up, they might re-add you. If you can’t unfriend, unfollow. A quiet life is what you are entitled to in your own private time. You don’t have to deal with this in real life, why online?
The online space is always there even if your mates aren’t, or you’ve fallen out with them. Hashtag your pain and find a new friend. Would people with chronic illnesses have such a support network of ‘spoonies’ without it? Would I have found confidence in my larger body without it? It’s uncertain.
Try to remember to balance scrolling mates’ lives with actually going to their living rooms with wine and hugs is also something I would highly recommend. I will never forget my newly-babied up friend who gave me a smile and told me how jealous she was of all of our friends with babies who looked to be glowing. If you didn’t know her and was looking at her Facebook feed, you would likely think the same of her, although she did share her struggles at times.
Just because someone looks happy and perfect online, it doesn’t make it’s true. It’s easy to hide behind a keyboard but braver to be what and who you really are.
Online, I don’t share much of my mental struggles, though I do some of them. I don’t share much of the good stuff, either. It’s not that I’m afraid to talk about it, it’s more that too much talking about it can trigger it to become worse. It’s about the fact I need to work through things sometimes not just talk about them, but overall the internet has helped me become a lot more emotionally literate than I might have otherwise been; a typically bottled-up British girl.
My own personal gripes with social media are these:
Friendships don’t end naturally anymore.
You don’t lose people from your life in the same way, so you have people languishing on Messenger waiting for you to contact them for a pint that will never be drunk with them. If you want to end a friendship you have to do so by cutting the ties with a pretty big knife, and that can be a pretty scary thing to do if you’re not happy to be confronted about it, or are low on resolve to not do the ‘oh I’m sorry, no idea how that happened!’ tango. Stay strong. Leave them if you want to.
Back in the old days, you just moved house and never heard from them again.
WHAT IS LINKEDIN?
And what is my RETIRED dad doing on there?
I figure I’ll give that one a miss. Work anxieties at home are not on my list, thank you, and if you want me for a job, bloody interview me, don’t stalk me. 2018 is a weird time to be alive.
And if, after all of this, you don’t want to do it, it’s fine. Feel the pressure? Throw it away. It may seem like all of the cool kids are online, but it just isn’t true. Some of them are outside. In the fresh air. Imagine.
(You can totally follow me on Instagram if you’re on there, though.)