A Big Birthday
I turned 25 yesterday. It was a big one: I woke up considering buying some multi-vitamins; my Mum Skyped me and used the phrase "consider your career" without ironic quotation marks; and for the first time I heard the joke "you don't look a day older than 18". Are they serious? Because honestly I'm pretty sure I look exactly the same as I did at 18. No, really. I do. Don't I?
The other depressing thing about my birthday was that I spent the evening thinking about how many people had wished me happy birthday on Facebook. It's a few more than last year, but 2011 was definitely the golden age. I've gone downhill since then, from the giddy heights of 160 to a sub-par 80 well-wishers. I started thinking about all the people I knew who hadn't written on my wall. What about Hannah? I freaking love Hannah. Does she not care it's my birthday? It's one of the most IMPORTANT DAYS OF THE YEAR. Goddamn and fuck it Hannah, this is not okay.
It got to the point that I completely forgot about the cards that my family had sent me (I live in Iceland, it's cold and it costs a ton to send anything here by post) and considered staying in, ordering Dominos and analysing in detail all the things that were wrong with me, which were probably reasons why not as many people loved me this year. And that's not even an unprecedented move, because I did that last year too. In the end I left the house, because luckily I have friends that wouldn't let me indulge in such self-loathing dick activities. And I had to go to work at some point. But it did make me think about that glorious beast, social media, and how it's probably killing all of our souls. Each one of the big four - Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram - routinely make me feel like a terrible person. Not only that, but they are making me a terrible person. And the worst thing is that I still love them. I love them so much. But I also hate them. Consider:
While Facebook has made it possible to talk to and stalk anyone we've ever met, it's also being blamed for an increasing condition of loneliness. This video, based on research into the link between social networks and loneliness, argues that constant self-promotion and the ability to edit our lives has engineered a perpetual loneliness. Facebook provides a platform that promises we will always be heard, and allows us to constantly connect with others so that we will never have to be alone. I check Facebook constantly, even though it is already linked up to my iPhone notifications. The possibility for self-sabotage here seems two fold. First, instant messaging gives instant gratification. But that gratification can quickly turn sour with the introduction of 'seen' notifications. I now know for certain that someone has seen my message. They have read it, decided it wasn't worth replying to, and gone on with their day. Was it not funny enough? Are they messaging other people? Am I a desperate loon with no conversational skills? It's stupid, ridiculous and petty, but for a generation raised on MSN Messenger, our online messages are our conversation. When these go ignored, it can make us question ourselves in a way that we know is insane - and if we tried to explain it to someone else, they would tell us exactly that - but left alone in your room on your laptop, we just can't seem to help it.
The second aspect of Facebook with life-ruining potential is the ability to self-edit. Everyone is constantly showcasing themselves - it's essentially Crufts up in here - and I don't think there is anyone left in the audience listening anymore. Sometimes it seems as if we're all just shouting at each other with our ears closed, endlessly and shamelessly self-promoting. Looking at someone else's profile, I'll wonder why I haven't put up any photos in the last month, or why I am not linking to an article where I interviewed 2Pac's ghost, or how I've not signed in at twenty-eight different countries in the past week. It's competitive, it's self-destructive, and what's worse is that I personally have no intention of deleting my Facebook. Because I would essentially cease to exist, and deleting the mechanism that is making me lonely would now, by product of its vastness, make me even more alone. You've really done it Zuckerberg, you absolute bastard.
This one is obvious. Look at your outrageously beautiful life, coloured in a perfect vintage rose pastel. Oh is that your food, so delicious and already in your stomach and therefore unavailable to me? This one's of your girlfriend I see. She looks effortlessly cool in her Raybans and cut offs. Everyone is having such delightful, urban and Vice-worthy fun and I'm going to sit here and try and make my cat look a lot more exciting than she is. Baby, can you wink at me maybe? Or do something with your paws? Or just try and look appealing in some way? Okay, you know what, we can't all be models. I'm just going to put a filter on that Coke Zero I got earlier.
I thought for a while that I was totally fine with Snapchat. "Sweet, I can send my friends rubbish pictures of things that don't deserve to be saved anywhere, or Snapchat my boobs without any lasting consequences, or have weird half conversations with people that may or may not be heard in full. Look at all the people around me in this restaurant who are also snapchatting their food, and not having any conversation! This is the best invention ever!"
Then things started to turn sour with the discovery of the "best friends" list, and the tiny yet insistent voice that pokes you in the ribs and asks you why you're not one of them. What about that guy I message all the time with hilarious pictures that affirm how funny and brilliant I am - and I'm not one of his top three? Wait, are those other girls on his top three? What is he sending them that I'm not getting? And Hannah too - that sneaky little snake - told me she wasn't speaking to her ex anymore. But I can SEE HIM RIGHT THERE ON HER BEST FRIENDS LIST. But calm down, I'm sure I must be on someone's list. Someones? ANYONES. *Cue dramatic and hysterical life melt-down*.
Estimates on the number of active Twitter users vary wildly from 200million to over 500 million. Whichever way you look at it, that's a lot of people blindly typing 140-character sentences into the cyber ether.
Obviously Twitter is amazing for some things: Hugh Laurie; Waterstones; One Direction fans; Little Hamm appreciation. It's tailored to your interests, it's the quickest way to see what people are talking about online, and a lot of Twitter users are really, really funny. But Twitter is simultaneously disgusting. It's essentially a huge cesspool of shameless self-promotion; autobots; collective abuse; banal information about people's breakfasts; more shameless promotion; and One Direction fans. We can watch people literally sit on Twitter all day, refreshing and refreshing until something actually happens.
It's the same with the other social media sites above: it's a way of escaping the boredom of whatever isn't happening around us, and yet nothing seems to move fast enough to keep us fully entertained. Just like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, Twitter can of course be excellent, but more often than not, it can also be a horrible dark lonely hole where everyone is shouting at everyone else, and no-one is actually listening. Except to One Direction.