Opinion

There's life after Twitter! I've quit & I'm doing quite fine

Hans Mackenzie Main has looked at social media from both sides now, from in and out, and while his Twitter fingers have gone cold he's struggling to leave Facebook

26 August 2018 - 00:02
By Hans Mackenzie Main
Social media can be like a prison preventing you from experiencing moments in full.
Image: 123RF/ Zhitkov Social media can be like a prison preventing you from experiencing moments in full.

It happened long ago. I was still young. At the time, I had a scooter-like motorbike I used to cross the Karoo, listening to my iPod. The earphones were pressed hard against my skull underneath the helmet, but I didn't care. It was 2009 - the "aughts". Heady times.

Riding through the semi-arid landscape, I felt the urge to tweet to the world that I was riding a motorbike and listening to music at the same time. I stopped and did so. The response to my tweet and my response to the response to my tweet, wasn't great. I quit Twitter and vowed never to return.

After years of therapy and "desensitising" (a technique employed by health professionals whereby a trauma victim is taken back to the scene of the trauma to process the event), I'd come to see the incident in context and went back onto Twitter.

Things had changed. People who had 2,000 followers when I left suddenly had 20,000. The little blue badges of verification had multiplied exponentially. It seemed the whole world had become celebrities or at least raised their personal lives to the level where every living, breathing moment of it was of interest to the public.

The playing field had changed and, looking back, I should have realised the new parameters called for a brand-new round of desensitising. But it was Twitter and my profile was looking really good, so I threw my hat in the ring with a tweet reading "If I take a friend to the voting station, can I double-cross someone?" hoping clever wordplay might get me off to a running start. It didn't.

My therapist and I have since decided I should stick to Facebook and only post when I'm with him in his consultation room. The arrangement worked OK, but I stopped posting altogether when my therapy stopped, even though he encouraged me to "go out there and engage the platform".

Amazingly, the rest of my life is going great. I have no problem picking up the phone to ask a friend for coffee, or telling my partner how much she means to me, right to her face. I haven't started a sentence with the words "That moment when" or ended it with a hashtag for well over six months now.

My mind is still; most of the venom that boils up now and then is directed at cyclists who know to simply follow me home should they think I've stepped over the line (or trolled them in person, if that's even a thing).

I guess you could say this is how the other half lives. Or rather, social media's one percent.

We're a sedate bunch, the fraction of the world's population not actively using social media, but infinitely more alert, I think. I would venture to say, among our ranks, few have walked into open manholes. We're not the ones hogging the phone charger or squeezing a whale into the 4.7 inch screen of a Samsung Galaxy A8.

I haven't started a sentence with the words 'That moment when' or ended it with a hashtag for well over six months now

In fact, next time you're out whale watching, take a break from your phone and scan the crowd. Look hard enough and you'll see an individual, arms at his or her sides, watching the mammal in full colour. That's one of us.

But we, and I, still have social media accounts. We threaten to take Facebook off our phones, and sometimes do, but say nothing of keeping it on our desktops.

We have learnt not to look directly at the follower count, but still have eyes only for notification alerts. We're off the hard stuff, you could say, but still need to "check in" every now and then in case we missed something.

It's a tough position to be in and I'm not proud. Trust me, I want to delete my Facebook account, I really do. I've Googled how to do it. I know where to go; what to click on. But I just can't. For all the misery it's brought me, I simply can't muster the strength to kill my Facebook profile where the cover photo's been the same for a decade.

My therapist posts on Facebook. He's touring the Tankwa Karoo National Park at the moment, taking stunning photographs of rocks. By the look of it, he'll be back by month's end and I'll probably go see him to discuss deleting my Facebook account.

It's not come up in his posts yet (he's really into his rocks) but I'm sure he's thinking of my Twitter story about riding through the Karoo listening to music. How could he not? He's right there.