In the last week of the school Summer Holidays my son asked me whether I asked his permission every time I put a picture of him on the internet. I answered truthfully, and with guilt. No.
He responded as all sensible eight year olds who know better about morality, digital ethics and parenting would. You really should.
Earlier in the year I had read ‘The Circle’ which (if you haven’t read it) will kick your social media butt all about the interweb and make you realise (hopefully) the level of intrusion that this stuff has in our daily lives. Yes, it’s an extreme play-out of the rapid growth of our online lives at the expense of some of our most precious possessions -reality and privacy, but as a warning of what could come next with another click of the ‘Like’ toggle it delivers a significant notification.
I thought back over the summer, when on three separate occasions I had met people in real life, who I mainly speak to on Facebook. Instead of actually sharing, in person, what was happening and being nice to each other, it was a brief, passing moment of ‘hello’ courtesy, that ended with ‘you’re really funny on Facebook, keep being funny’. Not ‘Really lovely to see you’. Like, actually see you. In person. Not ‘Let’s get a cup of tea and talk about the last three months where we haven’t spoken like humans’. Not ‘Tell me what’s been happening in your life’. Because they already knew.
Then in September, the school I work in limited mobile phones to off-site and out of sight. Students no longer message each other from across a lunch table, and the Whatsapp all happens when they are not in the building. If you think the students found it tricky at first, I have to be honest and admit that I did too.
Breaking the habit of repeatedly skimming Facebook, reaching for the pretty distraction of Instagram as my procrastination tool of choice and tweeting twaddle took eight weeks. Eight weeks of gradually becoming less jittery, checking for notifications, losing regular chunks of 20-30mins at a time when really, I needed to be more present or productive. Following my son’s Digital Copyright Request for greater anonymity, I took the decision of not posting on my personal Facebook account during this time. Checking in on friends was ok, but strangely, looking but not sharing now felt a little strange and removed.
What was more difficult to deal with, was breaking the narcissistic need for approval. I like to think that as a reasonably well-educated, happy human being with a family, friends and relatively few real worries in the world, I wouldn’t need 46 thumbs up signs and 22 hearts to make me feel complete. Turns out I’m a shallow click-bag who really does like a funny emoji. And if someone posts the pile of poo and the teary laughter I know I’ve done really good.
The reality of my very virtual habit is that when I faced challenges, I would reach for the phone instead of tackling them head on. When someone said something funny, I postponed the belly laughter to record the moment. When my children occasionally looked adorable (I have a great filter in my head that edits out mud, maggots and jam) I forced them to freeze, adjust the lighting and wait for me to enter my passcode. So I stopped.
In the last eight weeks, you have not had my daughter’s first day at school, the comedy of my truck breaking down on my birthday and being towed half way across Suffolk, or my son becoming a cub. You haven’t heard about the turkey lost in school, adventures in a river, me nearly crapping myself in the Co-op or multiple rants at the government. I haven’t been ignoring you, I’m not being rude (or any ruder than usual), those things were mine. You can’t have them unless I say so.
But our world is not one of absolutes. I have friends and family in far-flung places and yes, sharing is ok, as long as you follow the principle of wiping the bottle top clean on your sleeve first. So I’m going to share a little more, but a whole lot less that before. And please don’t ask me to be funny, the pressure has terrifying effects on me and I might just be in the Co-op.