• Robert Prendergast

The Anti-Social Network

Photo By: Christian Wiediger/Unsplash

All things considered, I have made a good start to 2021. I am finally taking some of my own advice and taking off some of the pressure I put on myself. I feel myself planning and looking to the future more than I miss the past.

I am making my days productive, applying for jobs and writing every day. I continue to go for a daily walk and I made it through January without any alcohol, certainly something I that was not possible in the first two lockdowns. I am listening to and enjoying music that a few months ago would have made me sad. I’m enjoying my own company for the first time in a long time.

I had baggage I wanted to leave behind in 2020 and I feel I have done that. So for a moment. I have allowed myself to feel proud.

But while I have been busy patting myself on the back for making progress I have become unaware of negative habits I have developed. Most notably the amount of time I spend staring at my phone and on social media. A place that makes only seems to shrink my achievements and quickly makes me forget my progress.

All devices, in general, cause their own issues, the ability to look up any footballer that has ever existed on Wikipedia has always been both a blessing and curse, and I never expected that 23 would be the age where I would play video games the most. But it is social media that I can clearly identify as a huge toxic presence in my life.

I’ve always been bad at social media and picked up bad habits quickly. When its someone’s birthday I go back through messages to see if they messaged me on mine before I say it to them. I’ve put up stories on Instagram just to get one person to see them, staring at the screen until they do. I’ve looked at an ex’s profile at 2 am to stir the feelings in my stomach and then feel sorry for myself for self-inflicting pain.

I take it personally when someone doesn’t reply to my message in minutes, then take days to reply myself. I’ve sent drunken message to people I used to know, or hardly know…or occasionally Liam Gallagher. The amount of times I’ve over analysed a full stop wondering if the person is angry at me.

A full stop? Sometimes one little dot can spoil a day.

Even now I post these articles and get excited about the ego boost I’ll get if people read it and message me. Then I allow the number of messages and notifications to dictate the level of success I feel. Now that I have started using my pages to promote my writing more I find myself staring at the number of followers I have every hour.

If that isn’t enough to show my paranoia, I have an app that tells me if someone unfollows me on Instagram. I check this almost hourly too. How can that ever have a positive effect on my state of mind? Why do I still do it? I can feel it making me sad and I still do it. I know that spending so much time on these apps makes me genuinely unhappy, yet I continue. It almost feels like going on social media is like self-harm.

I have put all the links to my previous articles in the top part of my Instagram page. Perhaps a cursed that the link records how many views I get and I find myself looking at that relentlessly. I know when I share this one I’ll spend the next 24 hours staring at that number waiting for it to get bigger and bigger, but never getting to the yet-be-invented-number that I would deem enough.

I know I’m probably not the worst. I’ve known when to stop and when to go out and distract myself another way. But now there are far fewer distractions. I have found it easy to lose a couple of hours sitting on my bed staring at a small screen, consuming content that only seems to anger me.

All social network and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.

Considering we are in a lockdown it is far from an outrageous statement to say that most of us are spending more time on social media that we usually would. I certainly am. There are people I still consider a huge part of my life, but only when writing this realise that I haven’t seen them for a year. I have social media to thank for that.

Simpsons memes and the same three videos of Neil Warnock being passed around take a moment of pleasure alone into pleasure shared. So that is something I am appreciative of. But as I reflect on how I have spent my time in the last year, I’m not fondly remembering days where I spent hours sat on my bed scrolling through Instagram.

Sometimes I get to the end of the day and realise I haven’t messaged anyone. Which of course is fine. But when I use the feature on Instagram to see how long I have been on it today and see its over three hours, I can’t help but think this is time wasted. I have nothing to show for it. At least when I think about how much time I have played games or watched tv in a day I know I took joy from these things. But scrolling through social media brings me no joy.

Staring at a screen all day seeing what other people are doing feels like peeking through the window of a party I wasn’t invited to. Sometimes it’s hard to shake thought that if I’m not on someone’s screen, then I’m not on their mind.

I often try to go 24 hours off social media. But I think I have only achieved this once, and not recently. If I was working and socialising it would be easier, but right now it feels like to be off of social media is to be off the whole world entirely.

As soon as I log out, I feel like someone has messaged and the fear of missing out kicks in. Even when I log out of the Facebook app it says I have several notifications. Yet when I log back in there are none. I’m not sure if this is an issue just with my phone, but it certainly manipulates this feeling of fear of missing out.

I know its easy to over romanticise being younger and forget the worries and pressures you used to have, but the days before having all these social media accounts seems like an ideal one. Take me back to the time when the most stressful thing in my life was trying to figure out who the Mother was in How I Met Your Mother.

I have avoided writing an article about social media, wondering whether there was anything I can say that hasn’t been said before. In truth, probably not. Because this isn’t really news is it? Most people understand social media can be a bad presence. Anything about the negative effects of social media has likely already been said. Even further it has probably been said ON social media.

When seeing posts on social media about not consuming too much social media, there are two reactions I have:

1) Fuck you social media, you hypocrite!

2) I agree this is a good point. So I log out. Oh, wait! If that is such good advice, then why would I want to come off of social media? Where else can I get that kind of wisdom from? I’m logging back in!

I expressed some of my feelings to a friend. They agreed and said. “I think I often tried to project an image that wasn’t necessarily how I felt deep inside”.

Isn’t this it in a nutshell? A lot of people I know post just to maintain an illusion that things are going much better than they really are. To make others think that you are busy and constantly succeeding.

“Well I don’t do that”, - A smug Robert Prendergast, 23.

To prove this I looked through my own past photos and stories on Instagram. I tried to look at it with fresh eyes, attempting to imagine how someone else is seeing me. The result was me realising that I’m a hypocrite.

I certainly look a lot like someone trying to project an image that my life is far more successful than it really is. Nothing too extreme. But I posted articles I had written, old pictures of friends and good times. These posts create a narrative. One that has handpicked out all the negative moments. It is as if I said to the whole world that I am doing great. This is certainly not the way I have been feeling for the last six months. Unknowingly I have been contributing to the very thing that I hate.

So I wrote an honest message alongside a post I made in January. White words on a black screen. Probably the first time I’ve ever done that sober. I stated how people make their profiles in the illusion that their lives are going better than they actually are. Openly admitting that I am trying not to that, and in fact, I am struggling.

But don’t you hate those posts? If I saw someone else do this I would immediately call them attention-seeking. Without doubt, that is what I would think. Is there any way to win here? I’ve even seen many posts in the past when people alert their followers that they are taking time out of social media. What is this? People have successfully identified social media as a source of negativity in their life yet feel the need to let it know before they leave it.

For its permission? For attention? Because to do it and to not post it on social would make it seem pointless? Any of those things. But it still feels like a win for social media. It still is a reminder of who is really in control.

The fact is when I have finished this article, I’ll share it to all my accounts. I will check my phone every 30 seconds waiting for someone to like it or message me about it. If and when I do get any feedback I don’t take time to appreciate it, I’ll just wait for the next one. I have the same feeling with the likes I receive when I post a new photo. I know it really isn’t good. I act as if I don’t fish for compliments, but even in this article, I started by explaining about making it through dry January as a boast with a view to get some sort of praise from someone.

I realise I checked my phone twice while writing that last paragraph. Why? I’m not expecting a message. All it has done is stop me from writing. It has just become a reflex. I say I don’t do it consciously as an excuse. But doesn’t that make it even worse? That without thinking I so quickly perform these acts of self-sabotage and stop myself from being productive.

I have thought a lot about why I behave the way I do when it comes to social media and I have reached a conclusion. Not one I like. But one I am coming to accept. It is this:

I am more interested in other people loving me than loving myself.

While this is something I instinctive and defensively thought was untrue, having let it brew I know it is quite accurate. I think I have always felt this way. Since realising this I have learned a lot.

Sometimes we stop doing things to please ourselves and it starts being for someone else. Taking a picture of your food so others can see it while letting it go cold and hindering your own enjoyment of it. I’ve seen people at firework displays not even looking up, instead of watching the display through their phone as they record it to show other people. While I am not guilty of these specific incidences, I am guilty of taking of a moment and working out how to present it to others, instead of focusing on enjoying it myself.

When you are feeling down and scrolling through others posts comparing yourself while at your lowest to people appearing to be at their best, there is no winning.

I have noted things that make me unhappy and I am setting myself small steps to change them. While I cannot change everything I want to change in my life right now. I can change this. I am taking back control.

I used to love turning off my phone on a Saturday so I didn’t find out any of the football results, waiting to watch Match of the Day in the evening. I haven’t done it for years because I am on my phone so much and always see the results. A simple thing that could bring me a lot of joy yet I still fail to do it. But I did it this past weekend of loved it. I felt the rewards of not glued to my phone.

A small step. A small victory.