Slice of Life: Is this the real life?
A few weeks ago I realised something pretty important. I realised I was probably going to die alone. And it was all thanks to social media. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a popular guy. I’ve had hundreds of friends for years now and we talk incessantly. They know what my every move is – and I can also see what they’re up to any time of the day. The meals they photograph, the family gatherings they snap, the nights out they catch on film, the witty observations they want the world to laugh along with. But there’s one problem. I haven’t been sharing those experiences with my ‘friends’. I’ve just been looking at them on a screen. In fact, when the realisation dawned, I reflected on the fact I’ve only actually met less than half of my ‘friends’ in real life…
The world of social networking is a bizarre one. Be it Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Whatsapp – it’s all virtual. An entirely subjective, created world where the real relationships of old have been abandoned for an in-your-face style of hands-off social voyeurism. And it’s like a drug. You just have to know what your pals are up to – and your mates must surely need to know your whereabouts, feelings and thoughts. That addiction idea comes off the back of real research too as recently global news outlets have labelled social media as a hazard to our mental and physical health, making us feel isolated. I’ve been worried sick. But, if you kicked this addiction, what would life be like? I imagined it would be cold, lonely and depressing, where you slowly wither as you realise you are alone in this world.
Okay, that’s poetic dramatisation. But it’s the sort of mindset I needed before I embarked upon an experiment. I wanted to kick the social networking drug. Unplug myself from cyber world and see just how lonely I would really feel. Would I crave FB and Twitter? Would I yearn for bullshit conversation – the need to find out which of my online companions thought The Amazing Spider-Man was overrated? So I quit for a week. Went cold turkey (albeit after a week of going Twitter-crazy to get it out of my system. Probably not healthy but I needed a scientific comparison…
My seven-day diet couldn’t have been more perfectly timed as Typhoon Vicente marched boisterously into Hong Kong and threw all in his wake into abject chaos. It was a time of utter excitement. Local netizens were in constant chatter. I just knew it. But, hands trembling, I kept away from my online ‘friends’ and opted to look out of the window instead. I used to jog in high-graded typhoons and tweet about the destruction on my way. I couldn’t face it now. So instead I tweeted: “Smell you later homies. I’m-a jog out in T9!” in my head.
At some point the signal increased to T10 and I went out to snap pictures that were supposed to be on my Twitter and Facebook accounts – but, instead, remained on my camera phone. It started off as annoying but soon I felt alive. I realised I wasn’t rushing inside to get the photos and the messages out to all and sundry who were seeing the same scene anyway. Instead I was just enjoying the natural, beautiful moment. I called a friend up and we actually talked. I hadn’t heard his voice for months. Like the typhoon, I was breaking free, off on a random course in the real world, rather than living by the shackles of social networking.
The rest of the diet was a buzz. Instead of finishing work and dashing home to sit in my room on my own with my ‘friends’, I saw a band, Magazine Gap, debut at Backstage and I also had a lovely dinner at Pizza Express with a girl. A real, in-the-flesh girl. And, within days, I wasn’t thinking about social media. There was no burning desire to stalk prey on Facebook. No more need to tweet out stupid shit.
This social-media diet gave me better sleep and time to catch up with my backlog (namely Mad Men: I finished the first season). By the final day, I was social media clean. I cared no longer about the artificially e-hype created by the media folks and l certainly don’t care about the London Olympics. Although my diet is over by now, I haven’t logged back onto Facebook or Twitter yet. I go out more and I feel slightly healthier. I won’t die lonely because I realise my real friends exist in real life. I should tell them. Maybe I’ll text… Jacky Lee