The other day somebody called me “the most active Burundian on social media”. I used to wonder how to appreciate such statements since, although they’re always said with a smile, they can mean one of two things: mockery [i.e. you don’t have a life, all you do is waste your time online, filling my timeline with useless sh*t which I don’t have the time to read since I’m not online as much as you are (although I’ve somehow I’ve noticed you live online)] or encouragement [i.e. most of the things you talk about and share are interesting, relevant, helpful and sometimes funny]. Whereas I used to have a broad appreciation of people’s [sometimes conflicting] comments, nowadays I tend to put every comment into perspective: I consider who it came from and what really makes the person “tick”. Like the other day some dude whose online activity consists of browsing, liking and commenting on people’s photos, complained about my online activity. Considering that I’m not a big photo publisher (anymore), I totally understood where he was coming from, and I wasn’t offended by his statement. I would tell you what I thought about him but you’d call me mean.
My first social media love was hi5, which I joined in… a long time ago, I don’t even remember. What I recall is that I shut my account for good in 2007, upon joining Facebook which seemed to be cooler but calmer: back then the only photo you could upload was your profile pic, and there was a professional feeling about the platform. Hi5 on the other hand had become so overwhelming with eye-blinding personalised profile pages that automatically played their owners’ favourite songs when you visited their pages. I quit Hi5 to get away from all that mayhem, but also in an attempt to become less of the emotionally unstable, narcissistic and limit-histrionic person that social media was turning me into.
Hi5 had this tool which allowed users to see who had visited their profiles. This not only meant that one had to worry about what the people whose profiles they visited thought of them [i.e. stalker alert!]; but it also influenced what they posted: posts would be geared towards making them look interesting vis-à-vis their friends and potential visitors. I managed to escape from these concerns for a while, when Facebook was still plain and simple, but they quickly resurfaced as the platform became more and more “user friendly”, allowing people to “boost their ratings” by updating their statuses with things like “argh, stuck at JFK airport for the next four hours”; by sharing photos of their amazing birthdays and holidays; or by using their walls as primary means of communication, to demonstrate that they were acquainted with cool, interesting and diverse people. I may have never crossed the Atlantic in my life, but I did all of the things mentioned above [in some form or the other], and my happiness and self-esteem took a serious toll!
I found myself comparing my real life to what others tried to make us believe their lives were through Facebook. I’d catch myself resenting other people’s successes, wondering how person x had managed to afford such and such thing [and coming up with conspiracy theories, à la Burundaise], or why had been invited to some party and I not, regardless of whether the hosts were my friends or not. All this made me feel like I wasn’t good enough; that I was a nobody… or when I actually did something worth “liking” and commenting, the feedback that I got left me with feelings of success that were so disproportional to the reality. It had to stop. I had to sort my life out.
My journey to recovery started with getting rid of all my photo albums. [I kind of regret this move though, as the hard drive on which I had stored all my stuff got burnt last year (thank you REGIDESO! Mxiu), meaning that I don’t have any digitals souvenirs of my 2006-2011 life which was very photoful and facebooked.] Then something quite awkward and embarrassing happened in 2010 [product of my intoxicated state of emotions] which convinced me that I should get off Facebook for a while to think about my life. I shut my account down in November that year, planning to take a whole year off, but I only made it to September of the following year. However, my recovery process had been completed, and Facebook had improved their privacy settings in a way that allows sorting contacts in categories with variable access to published information. I use these settings a lot! I also use the settings to stop certain (annoying) peoples’ updates from appearing on my timeline!
My Facebook break coincided with important changes in my life: a new job, new responsibilities, new experiences and new acquaintances. Thanks to experiences which I may talk about later, I learnt a lot about myself, about people and about the important things in life. I became more “chilled”, more open-minded, more sure of myself, more capable of appreciating others but also, less impressionable. And I’m still improving. It was also during my break that I discovered the awesome world of Twitter, where nobody really cares who you are and where strangers interact with each other in relative honesty, without seeking to impress each other [well, it is relatively easy to spot the wannabes and unfollow them]. I realised what I love most about social media: quick and unlimited access to [useful, quality-of-life-enhancing, and relevant] information, the freedom to voice and share your opinions, and the possibility to meet interesting people. I finally knew the online person I wanted to become and I was ready for my comeback!
A few days ago I read this article talking about (amongst other things) how social media has turned us into people who judge themselves by what they haven’t done instead of what they have; all this because we’re constantly exposed to people telling us about their “cool” lives, making us feel like sh*t in the process. Burundians have a melo-sarcastic expression [which hides a bit of envy] to appreciate that person x is doing better than us: “Abandi bana (sha)!” [Meaning: other kids i.e. look at what the other kids are up to while we’re just sitting here being useless]. Social media makes it so easy to fall into an “abandi bana” kind of feeling about life; but we must not forget that everybody is busy picking out what’s best about them and that’s what they show us! Don’t fall for the show!
Whether we realise it or not, social media impacts our lives by affecting our perceptions, our happiness and self-esteem: it’s up to us to decide the extent and the quality of the impact. If there is no added value to your life, I say you might as well quit social media altogether, at least for a while…