Hands up if you’ve ever tried to explain social networking to someone who doesn’t ‘get’ social networking. It’s a challenge, right?
‘Look,’ you say eagerly. ‘You can upload pictures of your lunch!’ And it’s like they don’t even care. ‘Why would you want to do that?’ they ask, like morons. ‘So everyone knows what I’m having for lunch. Jesus.’ ‘Who’s everyone?’ ‘Oh God I don’t know... just some people. It's fun, right?’
And for people that do ‘get’ social networking, it is fun (lunch photos optional). It’s a whole world of likeminded individuals that can sympathise with your inability to use liquid eyeliner, or that can offer inspiring advice and support in the form of pictures of kittens, or enable your afternoon drinking. And sometimes it’s genuinely useful, too.
But eating a whole bag of Babybels is fun. And wearing dangerously high heels. And crack cocaine. Fun almost always has a consequence, and social networking is no exception.
While Twitter is a valuable source of afternoon LOLs, a new study from the University of Salford suggests that such sites actually help fuel low self-esteem and anxiety.
Fact attack: two thirds of those surveyed said they find it hard to relax after using social networks, a quarter cited work or relationship problems arising from social networks and 50% of those surveyed simply said that using social networking made their lives worse. What’s more, 55% felt worried or uncomfortable if they were unable to get online to check their feeds, displaying symptoms similar to those shown by smokers in need of a fag.
And that’s me. That’s all me. I am not so much addicted to social networking for the sake of social networking, but for the narcissistic kick it provides. When my banal observations on life are retweeted or favourited, or earn me a new (human) follower, I get a brief surge of elation similar to the boost you get when you check your bank balance and find it’s in credit, or when you manage to avoid the Hollyoaks omnibus without even trying.
It’s like catnip for me. Self-validating catnip. If X number of people like my sarky comments about tourists on the Tube, that means it’s okay for me to think that they should just get the fuck out of my way.
If Y people have responded sympathetically to the news that I’ve spilt tea down my white top, then it means it’s okay that I’m incapable of functioning on a basic level. If someone gives me a #FF, it means I am worthy of people’s time. Love me! Adore me! LET’S BE FRIENDS.
So it’s no surprise that researchers at the University of Salford discovered what they did, because on the flipside of this exuberant self-satisfaction lies crushing anxiety, paranoia and worry.
Worry that I’m missing out on important conversations. That I’m somehow being excluded. That my @s have gone unanswered because I’m not worth replying to, or the recipient hates me because I once insinuated that I don’t like Hollyoaks. It’s a social minefield, digitised.
Every day I’m thankful that social networking blew up after I left school, because God knows those five years were a clusterfuck of misery without a whole extra dimension of ‘he said, she said’, furtive whispering and ‘the popular gang’. But in many ways, that’s exactly what Twitter and Facebook is like.
Being excluded from a conversation in which you were previously partaking can feel like a personal slight. An unanswered DM to someone that continues publicly tweeting can sting, yet being mentioned by a popular Tweeter can have you scampering back to your friends excitedly squeaking ‘They actually spoke to me!’
And then there are the uncertainties of written language itself. Sarcasm, tone and irony are frequently lost onscreen and you’re left thinking ‘What did that mean? Are they being funny? Serious? A massive betch?’
Of course, chances are that their Tweet about their expired gym membership didn’t carry any subtext at all but you CAN’T BE SURE. And it’s unceasing. Twitter and Facebook is everywhere you go. Thanks to that black shiny bit of tech sat next to your computer RIGHT NOW you can suffer the jubilant highs and damning lows of social networking from the comfort of your own toilet, should you wish.
In real life I’m a pretty confident lady with a standard amount of sass and ‘tude, no more afflicted by wobbles of self-esteem than the next woman living in a society which believes hairstyles should serve as a corrective tool for unacceptable face shapes. And yet on the landscape of the internet, I am 15 again. Just with better glasses.
Is this a hangover from my awkward youth? A damning indictment of human relationships in the modern age? A sign that I should fling my laptop into the sun and instead shout ‘I LIKE THIS’ at nobody in particular while shoving pictures of my tomato plant into the faces of passing strangers?
I don’t know. I’ll ask Twitter...
If you hadn't already got that, Rachel is on Twitter, tweeting, RIGHT NOW @Rachel_England