My on-again-off-again relationship with social media is the one enduring thing in my life
If you’ve been in a classroom with me, you’ve heard me say something akin to ‘technology in itself isn’t bad; it’s what we do with it that gives us negative feedback’ and some such. I truly do believe that we control and we choose. This is true for most things in life. As a sentient being, I make every decision that is under my control and every decision I make in turn becomes a consequence that I am liable to face. Seems only fair that it goes this way, doesn’t it? Lately, I’ve been existing just three fingers below the grey cloud of depression and the bipolar syndrome and have been able to think much more clearly than before. And so, I have been noticing how an action, if it goes awry, can be explained away by a rational though and an alternative action with a different, more desirable outcome. This is just the opposite of what I had been doing these past few years — letting any negative outcome of an ill-fated or ill-conceived act take over me and blind me from any reason or logic. So, I had begun taking bitter comfort in the resignation that everything I do is doomed and entirely out of my hands. That’s just not true, though, is it? I decide, I choose, I act and so, I can retrace or amend.
Countless times, learners in my classes (no age factor here, because both 19 year olds and 48 year olds have exhibited similar thought patterns on this) have claimed the counter-productive effects of social media. The same is the number of times that they failed to turn the finger inward and onto themselves. They usually use the rhetoric of the collective unconscious, albeit not with any sort of awareness of the concept. They simply like to make points about our social media and technology-centric habits that club the entire society, nay, the entire world, under one reductive umbrella of ‘everyone’. I find that terribly unfair and terribly short-sighted, and I tell them as much.
However, I then ask them to rephrase the sentence using ‘I’, ‘my’, and ‘me’. Unsurprisingly, they nod their heads in sheepish admittance and are all of a sudden filled with this sense of hope that they might just be able to salvage their attention spans yet. In a classroom, I leave it at that. Anything more from me, and it turns into my telling them how they should live their life and I will be the last person to do so. Anything more depth-oriented and they might start indulging in the free-for-all slippery slope of ‘we should’ and ‘everyone should’ and there’s no coming back from that.
On my own, though, I have had a journey with social media. I’m a fan of technological advancement. I stand by therapy by selfie (and not by the idiots who die while doing so, obviously). I applaud easier, faster, better versions of things and I’m ecstatic that because of technology, I may never have to drive a stick again. When it comes to social media, I’ve always been one to embrace and examine. In 2001, during summer break, my father enrolled me in a computer education workshop and I figured out how to enter a chatroom and talk to strangers from America. It was glorious and I was a rockstar to my group. Later that year, I got my first flip phone for college and was the fastest texter on T9 and that’s really saying something. After that, it was a steady flow of colour-screen phones, CDMAs, laptops, external drives, flash drives, downloading whatever my heart desired and of course, wi-fi routers that made the entire house a thriving cyberspace. I was the first in my circle to figure out what The Sims were and create an IMVU Avatar, and my brother helped me understand the vast network of faceless warriors that inhabit the many lands of RPG/MPOG narratives. I soon made the former my focus and wrote my M.Phil thesis on the subject of RPG algorithms and historical narratives that aid in storytelling in such games. Few people understood it, fewer still appreciated the take. I threw my left hand up in the air and continued texting on my kickass gunmetal Nokia Communicator with my right hand. And this is just the highlight reel. There is SO much more.
Yesterday, I was working on a pamphlet for a personal project. I had to finalise it and make some changes but I realised that I had only saved a .png version of it. If you know .png, you know it’s no friend of editing. The mere thought of trying to insert text over an image while making sure nothing else changes and it still maintains it’s translucent effect made me feel exhausted before I put digital pen to electronic paper. I wanted to fix it, anyhow. So I did what anyone would do — went online to convert the file first. You know, the easiest way out. Didn’t work. Turns out, if you convert .png to .doc or something similar, it just used the entire image as an insert and transfers that onto a word doc. Great. Couldn’t have done this myself.
My next idea was to think very hard about where I created it. I checked both my Drives (One and Google) and found only images there too. Next I checked my phone and my emails, just in case I had saved a non-image version there. Nope. I also went inside the archived trash folder to ensure consummate stone-unturning. Next, I went to my history (‘command+y’, not ‘where did I come from’) and scoured it for searches for templates, flyers, pamphlets, brochures, educational events, invitations, handouts and posters. I generally use sites such as canva.com, hloom.com or lucidpress.com because they are immensely user-friendly and don’t pester you with upgrade requests over e-mails. I did find the template that I had used but sadly, I had already saved and downloaded ‘the project’ and could no longer make changes in the free version. So, I did what anyone in my situation would do. I opened the image in .docx, inserted a text box where I wanted to change the thing, made it colour-blocked but matched it to the background of the existing graphics and went ahead with my editing. The moral of this story is that I am always happy to look a little further, work a little smarter, try a little harder, as long as I know there is still a way out. And I use this for all my work, not just the interwebs.
In the spirit of full disclosure, though, this is not just a post about how deep my love is for internet and all things cyber-y. It is also, and just as much, about the difficulties of being on social media and just generally online. There have been days that I would switch off my phone, put it in my mom’s jewellery locker and give her the key; days where I not only uninstalled but deactivated my accounts thinking that would give me closure; days, unfortunately, where I went on a bumpy ride through crests and valleys of anxiety and thrill, all in a matter of minutes (minutes spent scrolling through my Instagram posts — there is a LOT on there I’m not prepared for at times). My point is, and I do have one*, that even as I advocate in favour of the wonders of living online, my relationship with social media is at best co-dependent and at its worst, degenerative to my mind and my soul. So, I thought, why not bring into clear focus some of this unravelled sweater yarn of connectivity and give an honest review of what it means to be logged on.
- I come across such a wide range of good thoughts everywhere. Kindness, equality, animal care, love for the planet, green living, friendship, good food, new children being born, people getting married, thinking about health, thinking about ourselves, making positive changes, home remedies, DIY, immensely talented people demonstrating their surreal talents, people wishing each other on big and small occasions, and cats and dogs being cats and dogs. On a good social media day, I walk away almost certain that the world will be just fine.
- This safe distance media gives me much needed space and does the same for someone else who might need it from me too. A friend of mine and I were faced with losing a dear friend last year. I was close to the deceased, my friend was closer. We’ve been talking on and off and taking long gaps of silence in between. Because he needs this space to grieve, it is easy for me to give it to him. Because I need assurance that he is still there, I can always look at his profile, his posts on Twitter, his WhatsApp chat window and read old texts and that is enough for me. And this way, social media is such a perfect aid to grief — never pushy, never absent. Awkward has no place in the cyberspace.
- My blog, inconsequential as it may be to most, is a living thing to me. At times, someone I hardly know comments and I’m reminded once again that we are all still people, still pretty much the same in most ways.
- I’ve found actual, functional closure to so many parts of my life on social platforms. Blocking and unblocking someone, thus revoking or allowing access to my life is such a powerful tool. The sense of ownership and choice that comes from blocking someone who is toxic or harmful to my mental health and the feeling of true forgiveness that accompanies the rare unblocking of someone is better than therapy. Blocking someone today is the ‘screening calls from someone’ of the ’90s. We always need this authority. I recently unblocked someone whom I will never talk to. Why? Because it doesn’t matter anymore. They don’t affect me anymore. Their ability to approach me is no longer a threat or even a noteworthy event and so, there is no need for the hateful act of keeping them blocked. In unblocking them, I have set them free. I have set myself free to move on in every sense of the word. It’s a heady feeling.
- On Truecaller, I have a fun game I play. We all get spam callers and robocallers and the loan agent callers, right? Well, every time I get a call from some such, I change their name to ‘Spammy Fuckers’ or ‘Loan Fuckers’ or from the recent list, ‘Property Fuckers’ before blocking them. I would find it immensely helpful if I could see who’s calling on Truecaller before I answered. But mostly in the case of others punching in names for Truecaller identifications, it’s a half-hearted attempt to name someone, so what I get is ‘Rajsh Vo’ or ‘Priya bank’. Is it my bank? I don’t know. Should I pick up? I’m not sure! If I see them blocked in red and see the title ‘SBI Loan Fuckers’ I know what to do! And now, so will you. You’re very welcome. The other day, though, I got a call from an unregistered number, and the man who had a heavy Western UP accent called me sister and told me that my number has won some brand new car. I asked him where I could come pick it up. He in turn asked me for my address and bank details to which I of course replied that he must be out of his mind. He then very colourfully asked me, in Hindi, to get my vagina fucked, and never one to take a hit lying down, I replied, also in Hindi, that I will cut off his penis and feed it to him with salt and pepper and I’m coming to find him. I then hung up, as you would. Also, I changed his name from ‘sb craditcrd’ to ‘Balatkari/rapist’ and I used the Hindi font to make it official. Like I said, I have fun.
- I have learnt so much from my social networks. I cannot list my education here. I can only say thanks to the powers behind Google and whatnot who have taught me more and better than most classrooms I’ve been in.
But, I did say that this is full disclosure. Here are some not-so-great aspects of being a (cyber-) social butterfly:
- There is no filter. I am susceptible to bad things just as much as I am open to the good ones.
- Trolls will find me and bug me. I will bug them back, but they will start it and most often, they will finish it too. Hence, the title.
- Inevitably, I come across animal cruelty. Ricky Gervais, who is my most favourite stranger in this world, and a dedicated animal lover, posts delightfully hopeful things most days. But some days, he comes across some incident and reposts it with a mean comment (helpless as he is in such moments) and I see it. I can’t unsee it. It stays with me and haunts my background thoughts for at least a day. I don’t want to unfollow him. I love his work and his posts. So, I resign myself to this sporadic but dark fate.
- Memory is tricky and unstable on social media. Things from the past come up unannounced and people like myself, who live more in their heads than anywhere else, get hit the hardest. An old lover, a former friend, a failed effort, a lost age — it’s hard to control what you have lived on social media. Mind, I have to a large extent, managed to curtail the ‘bad memories’ and custom-tailor my feed everywhere to keep me happy and failing that, just constant. But I’m not perfect and I’m not the one in-charge, so, things still come up.
- It’s a thing about habits, they form. I will go weeks without checking any of my accounts and then have a few days of erratic, obsessive ‘refreshing’, if you catch my drift. I find myself asking myself all manners of questions about why I do this. I don’t know, though. That’s pretty much why I do it. Maybe as I get older, I will figure it out. Right now, I think it’s mostly down to my being alone a lot and feeling safe with my distance from the 3D world. At least the screen I can shut off any time. Can’t I?
Lookit, I’m not telling you all this to help you make up your minds about your own social networking habits. If you do end up getting something out of it, tell me too. I’d love to know.
I just needed to put this out there for my own well-being. I also wanted to put it in writing, you know, that for such a large part of my life, I have also lived on another tangent, in another space, and that it is just as valuable and in some ways, more so than what I have in my tangible existence.
Ellen Degeneres owns that phrase.