I was first exposed to the world of social media in 2012. Having just passed my Eighth Standard, I was ready to be a grown-up and as such, I thought of opening up a Facebook account and see what this strange new world had in store for me. Unbeknownst to me, my experience with Facebook would forever change who I was.
I was a shy boy. Everyone who knew me back in the day would always describe me as a quiet and gentle boy. Later on, I would find out from various online quizzes that I am what they call “an introvert”. Anyway, growing up as a shy boy, I never had many friends. Whatever I had, they had no permanence in my life and I would have to go on my journey of making new friends all over again after a couple of years. I was neither a kid who went to his friend’s house (I did so for the first time in the 10th standard, that too, to complete a group project), nor were my parents the kind who mingled with the other parents which ultimately led to the kids becoming friends that way. I just wasn’t like those kids.
But I wanted to have some friends. I really did. That’s when I joined social media. In those days, being online was a lot different from it is now. I used to recharge my “2G data pack” at exorbitant prices, which ultimately allowed me to check what was going on for merely a couple of hours that too with loading screens that used to last for an eternity.
It was also very common to not be your real self, online but use fake names, pictures, and whatnot.
And I was also rather fearful of my parents finding out about the whole thing as it wasn’t as common or encouraged for children to be online.
Maybe it ought to have been too looking back on it.
Social media wasn’t for me. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I did. I liked it too much. At least in the beginning.
It was like a drug. That’s all I can compare it to. My Facebook account became my life.
And, in the beginning, it was mutual. Facebook was giving me whatever I needed from it. I was interacting with people from my school who I never had the courage to approach in real life, I was becoming popular because of my quippy posts (which looking back were far better for twitter), and I was finally making friends. Or so I thought.
One thing that came hand in hand with the internet was people’s irresponsible and rash behaviour. Particularly with words.
What I find is that people are allowed an unusual amount of free reign to say whatever they want on the internet. People say things to each other that they otherwise would never dare to, never dream to say to each other in person.
People seem to have this idea that whatever they say on the internet doesn’t count. What they fail to recognize is that behind every screen is a real-life person, a person with feelings. The dehumanization created by the internet is a bigger topic but what it boils down to is that the internet is removing the human element from conversations, that if you say something extremely fucked up or shitty to a person in real life as you do on social media, people will give it to you right back and that time you can’t hide behind that block button.
I write this not only for the people who have been extremely unkind to me on the internet in various instances but also to myself, as even though it hurts to admit it, I have not exactly been the most “non-toxic” person either.
There was a time when toxic interactions on the internet became the norm for me, I was giving back exactly what I was getting. I used to write nasty things to people who wrote nasty things about me. And it was killing me.
I knew I wasn’t the person I was online. I knew deep down that the internet and the culture prevalent in that hellhole was bringing it out of me. And yet, I couldn’t stop. Internet addiction is as real as any other addiction and the farther you dive into it, the harder it gets to come out of it.
I don’t know if that is the case with everyone or some people are just born mean-spirited, unpleasant, and malicious.
Anyway, in 2017 I knew it was enough for me. I was done with the internet.
The whole journey that started because I wanted some friends pushed me farther away from the few friends I had and made me realize that internet friends are just that, people who will give you some insignificant minutes of their day while they’re on their phones but will never be there for you outside of it.
For a year, I disappeared from social media. I deactivated my Facebook account, hardly ever opened my Instagram account, and only lurked on some WhatsApp groups in search of some quality memes to have a good laugh.
And I was happy, happier than when I was on social media at least.
My life changed for the better. Being away from social media removed a lot of the constant negativity I used to be subjected to daily, in the form of replies to my political posts, mean comments on my pictures, and the rather regular fights with my internet friends over silly issues.
What I got in return was a chance to educate myself better on various topics via books, I could watch the best movies and TV shows, my relationship with my family became a lot better and surprisingly I ended up making a lot more real friends and a best friend (no, I don’t care if you think it’s cheesy).
I am back on social media now, but not in the same way. I hardly ever open my Facebook and Instagram accounts (having kept them because I’m always happy to discover old friends and acquaintances who come knocking through these doors) and am now only active on WhatsApp as I have discovered the privacy that is in it due to its system of only allowing my contacts to interact with me is sufficient for me to be on it.
I now know how to navigate the waters of this turbulent river and will never drown in it again.
Social media can be as much of a boon as it is so regularly painted as a curse, but if and only if you don’t allow it to consume you and your being.