Admit it. We’ve all been there. Your inbox is overflowing with hundreds of emails. You’ve taken a hammering on Twitter, abuse on Instagram, or foulness on Facebook. You’ve fielded enough questions or queries to apply for government funding as some sort of family guidance/friendship advice/work colleague helpline. And all the while, your brain is screaming, ‘ENOUGH!’
You’re experiencing an overload of digital dumping, and you need to sit back, realign yourself, and remember how to breathe. It’s time to activate shutdown procedures immediately.
I’m not trying to be preachy. I’m just as much of an online addict as the next person. In fact, I’m sitting here at a café writing this and having some mild anxiety as I can’t get my personal hotspot working on my laptop. And glancing around me, at least half of the café patrons are sitting looking at their phones rather than the people they’re sitting with, which makes me think that somewhere along the way, we’ve lost sight of how to communicate with each other, face-to-face, as human beings.
True story… I was waiting for some takeaways at a food court recently, when I recognised someone I was ‘friends’ with on Facebook, but didn’t really know that well. He saw me too. And guess what? Neither of us acknowledged one another. I thought about it all the way home. The ridiculousness of calling someone a friend online, but not actually being able to say ‘hi’ in person.
I got home, logged onto Facebook, and un-friended anyone on my friends list that I didn’t feel I could ring up and ask over for dinner/a favour/a donor organ. My list magically shrunk to a couple of hundred people, and I felt relieved. There was no other word for it. And I gave zero fucks about the people that I un-friended. Zero.
Observing some things that I have seen online recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend of out of control online abuse, derisive opinions, and outlandish statements. I’m pretty sure that in real life, none of these people would have the gonads to say anything mildly close to what they say on social media. So how come it’s OK? (And here’s a thought… maybe we should rename it ‘anti-social media’. I’m serious).
I have a few close friends who are ‘celebrities’, and hearing some of the stories of what they’ve experienced online has been, to say the least, absolutely revolting. These are people, just like you and me, who, despite their public persona, read things online that can hurt. The crass and often vile suggestions they’ve received from complete strangers has often left me stunned on their behalf.
It’s not until you’ve literally had to pick someone up off the floor who is so bereft and wretched from the onslaught of negativity they’ve received, that you appreciate how toxic the online community can be. And don’t even start with the argument of, ‘Well if they’re in the public eye, that comes with the territory.’
My partner-in-crime here at Villainesse, Lizzie, made me open a Twitter account when we launched #MyBodyMyTerms last year, so that I could interact with any online commentators once the project went live. She and another Twitter-savvy friend also helped me choose a bunch of people and publications to follow. I actually have no idea how many followers I currently have, but I’m betting it’s not that many. And I give zero fucks about that too.
While I have honed the ability to not read online comments or respond to them – comes from over 25 years of making television and then owning a restaurant – I’m happy to admit that I am simply incapable of not taking on board negativity that is thrown my way. We might get hundreds of amazing reviews/critiques/communiqués, but it’s always the one negative comment that sticks in my craw. So I choose not to engage. (The one time I did, on a community Facebook page, I was gobsmacked at how skewed the topic of conversation got, to the point where people were attacking me so many different lines of thought that I forgot what my original post was about.)
Lizzie, on the other hand, is a mastermind goddess of social media. Her ability to engage, debate, and call out issues that she does or doesn’t agree with is jaw-droppingly proficient, and in my mind, admirable. I certainly couldn’t do it.
But sometimes, as her business partner, I have to gently remind her that switching the phone off, or turning off the wi-fi for a few hours actually gives her a break from the constant onslaught of online contact she deals with on a daily basis. And that makes her happy. Which makes me happy.
And I DEFINITELY give many fucks about that.