One of my favourite outcomes from starting this blog all those years back is some of the random emails I receive from kind strangers that instantly brighten up my day. A digital version of receiving an unexpected letter. Little notes from people who just felt like reaching out to say hello, or to share a thought that felt too personal to comment publicly, or just to share something small that had resonated with them from one of my posts. I still don’t take this for granted – the fact that you can self-publish something you’re randomly feeling and someone, somewhere might feel the same as you. I love meeting new people in person and I love email exchanges with strangers about things we have in common – this is one of the nicer things about the Internet, the ease of being able to connect, share ideas, feel less alone. When I publish my thoughts on here it’s always a bit of a “eek” moment when I hit “publish” because “putting yourself out there” is always scary, every time. Even if you’ve been doing it for five years, or five months. Because it would be so much easier not to. It would be way easier to never to blog, to never be honest, to never open up online, but the feelings I get from the actual doing of it overtake any negatives and bats away the fear that creeps up on me:
- I find it therapeutic physically writing a blog post in my own little corner of the Internet
- Once it’s published I get a feeling of achievement that I’ve “done” something
- Hearing from people who have read my post, whether it’s a tiny tweet or a long email
The third point is my favourite, always.
This past week I received a few emails that were all along the same sort of lines – asking the same question. I thought I’d turn my answer into a blog post because I really enjoyed reflecting on it.
In a nutshell this was the question in a few emails this week:
“I would love to know how you switch off from social media. I find that I get so consumed even on days off work. Have you ever been in the same boat?”
So here’s my response:
Omg YES ALL THE TIME. I really really struggle with switching off. Switching off is something that I have had to teach myself to be good at because I was slowly going mad. I’ve always been ~that person~ who is Instagramming the food before it’s even hit the table, or quickly tagging our location on Facebook when out with friends, or uploading masses of photo albums five seconds after the holiday is over in the taxi home. It was my love for social media back in the day when I was obsessed with the latest apps, the newest technology, the best phones and laptops that lead me to start having a kind of “technology focused” career I guess. I wasn’t always working in social media but I’ve always worked in digital and always been into the evolution of technology and how we all connect. I mean, I’m writing a whole book about the social evolution of the Internet, so, you know, I have a lot of time for it.
My life wouldn’t be what it is without the Internet – I got every single job that I’ve loved pretty much because of people I’ve connected with on Twitter, or blogger friends or social media savvy friends that work in PR. To me, five years ago, social media work connections was like the “secret trap door” to get into the industry. If you were always online, you wouldn’t miss out on anything, you’d always be the one to spot a new job opening or a cool opportunity. I don’t regret being that social media obsessed because it led me to my dream career faster than if I wasn’t always hunting things down. Being totally obsessed was a good thing at the beginning, a really good thing. If you’re obsessed, it means you want it really bad.
However, as I’ve grown older and time has ticked on and I’ve had reflections on “where I want to be” I have distanced myself emotionally from being too invested in “online life”. By that I mean that although my blog and Twitter feed have brought me great joy (and continue to) it is not everything. It never was. It never should be, or will be. A social media world is far from everything. It is a snippet – of life, of time, of enjoyment. My online life is not synonymous with who I am, it is not 100% “me” because we are only ever “us” in real life, with people that love us. Your Twitter or Instagram following does not define your career.
It helps to have close friends that aren’t into it. Obviously this is just a coincidental thing, but my best friends in the whole world and boyfriend just aren’t that into social media. My best friend who I’ve known since I was 4 years old has only sent about two tweets in her life and her username has about seven numbers following it – she doesn’t care, and doesn’t have a clue, and I love her for it. She accidentally breaks computers. Being with them is an escape in itself. That’s one way to switch off, without having to think about it too much.
You can “switch off” more than you think, in small ways. This is an important distinction to make, I believe, to keep your sanity in a digital-frenzied world. I’m not talking about paying through the nose to have a “digital detox” weekend sponsored by Whole Foods, I’m talking about every single day knowing that your worth does not come from a number of likes; that you’re not a “bad person” just because you’ve voiced an opinion that no one agrees with on Facebook or Twitter. Your worth is not how many viral tweets you do per week. It is not the amount of comments on your blog. It is not how much of a slave to technology you are. Other things matter. Putting all your eggs in one basket is dangerous and it gets in the way of having a healthy relationship with yourself. To have “fingers in lots of pies” doesn’t mean an unhealthy WIFI addiction. Big defining career moments normally happen offline. You don’t have to share everything. Believe it or not: I don’t.
This is what I’ve learnt. I’m not distancing myself physically – I still tweet all the time because I enjoy the connection it brings, and if I’ve got something to say, I’m going to say it! I’m never going to hold myself back – but it IS important to have some time away because it reminds you that you are in control. I’m not talking about needing a dramatic cold turkey “month off” or making a big song and dance of telling your followers that you are “having a Twitter break and will be back soon” – there’s no need to put pressure on yourself like that. I’m just talking about an hour before bed, in bed with a book, or in the bath without a phone, or consciously moving your phone away from the dinner table when you’re sitting down with a partner or friend, or teaching yourself to kill any niggling feelings of “argh this person won’t stop talking to me about shit I don’t care about – I wish they’d go away so I could check my emails.” Be honest with yourself when you know you’re being an Internet diva. The addiction can be curbed, but you have to be strict with yourself.
I got to a point a while back when I realised that I was acting the same with my phone the way I used to act with cigarettes (before I gave up). Getting tetchy – needing it – getting annoyed when I was in situations where I could have it. We don’t admit to ourselves that we are technology addicts. The way we run home to charge their phones is the same as a drug addict lining up their next fix. I didn’t like it. And although my job is in social media and I run a blog and my whole livelihood comes from the online word, it’s important to feel that you are not a slave to it – that you are doing what you like doing and then you can put it away. Like eating ONE BISCUIT and then putting the rest of the packet back in a cupboard, and not staying up all night eating them and then feeling rubbish.
I feel so lucky to have so much joy in my life and I refuse to read crap that doesn’t matter on my phone when I’m in the company of someone who means the world to me. I refuse to be too consumed. Life is too short, and time is incredibly precious. Is that “urgent email” actually urgent? Probs not, let’s be honest.
Over and out – I hope this was useful in some small way. We’re all just doing our best, aren’t we? Thanks for the email xxx
“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE
"Funny, honest, and nostalgic!"– The Debrief
“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic