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Guest post: Living a real life again – on giving up a twitter addiction for Lent…

Brooke Sheldon

Today we are pleased to welcome Brooke Sheldon as guest blogger to let’s talk! Over the coming weeks we will be offering a variety of writers, thinkers, therapists and anyone interested in well being the opportunity to talk about something of importance to them and to give their thoughts on how we can support our own emotional and physical well-being in our increasingly fast paced world. Here Brooke writes of her decision to leave the twitter-sphere for the 40 days of Lent, and the results – some surprising, some less so –  of her experiment. Social media addiction, affirmation and validation can be replaced by something far more meaningful….

social-media-addictionIn February, on my blog, We Are the Books We Read, I wrote a post about giving up Twitter for Lent. I decided to take a break because it had become an all-consuming vacuum, a fake symbiosis. I truly believed that those who ‘followed’ me were as absorbed in my life, thoughts, exaggerations, petty complaining and bitching.

Result One. The first thing I noticed after logging out was the increased time I had every single day.  Very quickly, I had literally hours to fill. Where once I updated the feed every few seconds, I now had time to look at a draft of the book I’ve been working on since 2011. That’s right, 2011 and while I’m still not finished all these 40 plus days later, I have completed more editing in this time than in the last six months. I had wrongly believed Twitter to be as reliant on me as I on it and that I needed Twitter to be a validated as a person.

Result Two. I started thinking again; ideas, realisations, sentences, comments, interactions and experiences all materialising in forms greater than 140 characters. The world opened up. I noticed the life around me and I revelled in the mundane.

A few days into Lent I wrote in my diary, the trees are budding with flowers and new leaves. Life is coming back into the park by the bus stop. A few days later I wrote, the storm last night has blown the flower petals all over the ground. They look like snowflakes against the dirt. Observations like this have been out of character for me in recent years. Sad but true.

Result Three. Increased time to read, to watch films, to engage with creative mediums. Don’t misunderstand, I never stopped engaging with these activities but there was always the tug of what was happening on Twitter. The need to see what everyone else was doing, thinking, emoting etc. debilitated the enjoyment.

Result Four. On Twitter nothing has changed. The same conversations are happening, the same arguments are repeating, the same causes are being fought for, the hatred of various people is maintained – the continuity is familiar but falsely safe, disappointingly prosaic and invidiously narcissistic.

What I find curious is the numeric stability of followers to my account. There has been fluctuation yes but not as much as expected considering the only Tweets appearing were those automatically generated via my blog. Inconsistently, the unfollowers have mainly been those who assert (allege), in their biographies, that they are followers of Jesus, belonging to Christ, and other variations. These are people (accounts) one could expect to understand the path I had taken.

This brings me to Result Five. Did anyone who follows me, notice I was gone? Did they open the app, or the website and think, ‘gee, I haven’t seen Brooke around lately, I wonder where she is?’. My bio states my intention, but was the message read? Was anyone interested?

Initially, I vainly wanted the email alert saying someone had “DM”’d me, I wanted the email saying someone had mentioned me in a Tweet and not one came. I can honestly say this was a problem. Yes I said where I was going but no one said ‘hey, good choice’, or ‘good luck, see you after Easter’ and I felt let down. I felt like no one cared.

What I’ve realised is that in the reverse, I was (am) the same when people stop using Twitter. I wouldn’t notice they were gone until someone asked about them. We, as humans, are so wrapped up in our own concerns we take little time to be the shoulder to lean or cry on. We spend excessive time putting our happiness in the hands of strangers who communicate in 140 characters (or less) and we allow the control of that 140 characters to determine our worth. Honestly, I am happier without that little blue bird smothering me.

I was going to write “there is no way to avoid Twitter these days” but this is what social media types want us to think. Those who seek to saturate us with various social elements don’t want us to realise that smiling at someone in the street, giving up a seat for a pregnant lady or picking up a piece of rubbish is a social act. The ‘socialverse’ wants us, nay, insists and forces our engagement, through screens big or small and tell us that to not do so is unnatural, deviant.

On day one I thought I would be desperate to open the app and pick up where I left off. Now I realise, like any addict, I wasn’t in control and the desire for Twitter manipulated me every minute. Twitter is a tool to use and this had become reversed. The biggest realisation from this experience is that I am okay as I am. I don’t need validation via 140 characters.

Our thanks to Brooke. Do check out her lovely book review blog We Are the Books We Read .