Friday, January 31, 2020

Social Media Pre-withdrawal Anxiety

In a few short hours, I will, as previously-threatened, stop using Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for 1 month. My only "social media" will be Goodreads, and is that really social media, by it's strictest definition? Sorry, but you purists will have to suck it up. I'm not bailing on books and discussions surrounding them for a month! I'm not a Luddite!

As I was driving home from work tonight thinking about the upcoming "social media fast" (while listening to a podcast and some music of course, and seeing how good of gas mileage I could get by driving smart - 33.4 mpg!), I thought about the many projects I have lined up (a few of which include some soon-to-be-posts to this blog that I have been putting off for literally years). I imagined sewing the patches on my esoteric denim, writing my long-overdue post about my and my wife's trip to England, Austria, and Germany, reading more, and doing some cool RPG stuff (think Nick Cave and David Bowie meet Dungeon-Crawl Classics and Carcosa, respectively), I was hit by a wave of anxiety.

This wasn't your "I forgot to do laundry" level of anxiety. This was "I might need to take the next exit" level of anxiety and it seemed to come out of nowhere. Thankfully, I didn't panic, just got into the slow lane and enjoyed a more leisurely pace (after all, how do you think I got 33.4 mpg?).

I thought about this for a while. Obviously, something was bugging me, badly, and it had to do with the upcoming fast. But what was it? Am I worried about missing the news? Nope. I listen to NPR every morning when I wake up. Besides, after the travesty in the US Senate and the idiocy of Brexit, I don't have a taste for much news right at the moment. Was I worried about not being heard? Nope. I've got this here blog and Goodreads for that. Maybe I was worried about missing something important? No. One of my intentions doing the fast was to miss stuff, even some important stuff. Was it fear of boredom? Oh, no, not at all - I have PLENTY to do, stuff that I really want to do, for the month.

Then, it dawned on me. I am anxious about being "alone". Now, I enjoy a good flesh and blood social life. My wife is great and, after almost thirty years of marriage, we are still together and enjoying marriage, even with its ups and downs. We have a date night every Friday night (okay, this week's was last night, when we went to see Riverdance at the Overture Center - it was awesome). And I am very involved as a volunteer with my church group. I get on google hangouts (long may it live) every Tuesday to do RPGing. And I (usually) hit one Wednesday night game a month, in addition, and a Saturday game occasionally. Throw in all the events we have going on, a monthly date night with friends, kids and grandkids coming and going . . . you get the idea. I am far from alone.

Where did this fear of being alone come from, then? Ironically, I think it came from overusing social media in the first place. I have an addiction. I am an addict. And I need a freaking break.

When we visited England last July, we went to one of the most beautiful little villages I have seen in my entire life, the picturesque village of Bibury, I had been wanting to visit this village for many, many years. My computer desktop background was a great black and white photo of the beautiful stone houses known as "Arlington Row" way back in the early 2000's (I'll post my own images this month, though they're not great photography). Our tour guide, Alistair, one of the great guides for the (VERY much strongly-recommended) Kooky Cotswold Tours, dropped us off and we wandered for a good half hour or so, just bathing in the relaxing quaintness of it all. It really is a little slice of heaven.

When we met back up with Alistair, I mentioned to him that I had been looking forward to seeing this sight for ages. I asked if anyone lived in the cottages (I thought they were publicly-held-type buildings) and he mentioned that people lived in them. I expressed my forlorn desire to live in one of those cottages, and Alistair surprised me by remarking "yeah, it's beautiful and all, but it would be kind of like living in a fishbowl, wouldn't it? All those people coming by all day long wanting to peek inside your windows and strangers constantly taking photos of your house. I couldn't live with that." I told him I hadn't thought about that. As we drove on to go see a couple more lovely towns, including Stow-on-the-Wold, we remarked at how lovely these towns were, and Alistair remarked again that, though they are beautiful, living in them would feel like living in a fishbowl.

I thought a lot about this as we continued on, the thoughts not diminishing my enjoyment of the peace at all, but the cautionary phrase "living in a fishbowl" continued to resonate with me.

About halfway home from work today, after my initial anxiety attacks, it dawned on me: I've become inured to living in a virtual fishbowl. Like it or not, when you are on social media, all kinds of eyes are on you. I find myself sometimes taking on a bit of a performative persona, like I'm on stage (and I suffer from horrible stage-fright!) and "another me" comes out. Not someone who is entirely NOT me, but someone with both exaggerated and overly-subdued characteristics that don't always reflect how I am in person (though, to some extent, they do - they're just magnified or minimized by that performative feeling).

So, really, it's time for me to take a break. I'll be back in March. At least back on Twitter. Facebook? Probably not. Instagram? I'll probably mostly lurk there, like I do now. And, after my great purge of Twitter a moth ago, I'm probably going to do another great purge. I'm under a thousand people I'm following now. Depending on how I feel when I come back, I might cut another 500, who knows? Maybe 700? I dunno. In any case, I'll be back, but . . . cautiously. I don't want to become addicted to being a performer again. That's really not me. And, most of all, I want my time back. I want to be able to be bored and have to find something to do. I want to slow my pace, rather than thinking I have to  be checking Facebook and Twitter in between every other thing I'm doing. I need some breathing room, and this is me pushing clutter away, starting at midnight tonight. Don't worry - you'll be the beneficiary of some cool stuff, as a result. And I'd love to hear what you have to say in the comments section of each post. Seriously! Because while I don't want to be in the fishbowl, I do want to stay engaged with old friends and new and interesting people. Except bots. Bots suck.

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