Free January

I have an odd relationship with social media. It’s sort of like eating fast food. You know there’s absolutely nothing beneficial in it but for a little while it’s fulfilling. It gives you something to do with your hands. It’s something to look at. It’s usually pretty bright and shiny and will get something spilt on your trousers. In the end it will kill you and everyone you love. Alright, I didn’t completely think that comparison through. The important thing is that in January 2016 I decided to cut myself off in the name of my sanity.

For over a decade I’ve been addicted to social media. I was on Bebo and then I was on Faceparty. I was on MySpace and then I was on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram. Not a day goes by when I don’t write something pithy and mildly irritating to the masses (approx 700 friends on Facebook, 500 followers on Twitter, 400 followers on Instagram, 250 followers on Tumblr). It’s not a massive amount, I’m not Katanga Jenner (my knowledge of pop culture “icons” is slipping as I approach 30 and this might not even be the vacuous person I intend it to be). I sometimes feel like I owe them something, that if they don’t know what I’m eating then they’re going to struggle to sleep at night. “Sure I have a roof over my head, a wardrobe full of clothes I don’t wear and a fiancé who wants me dead but what does Paul Schiernecker think about the Cuban Missile Crisis?” I hear them crying out as they toss and turn on their pillows. It was this narcissistic tendency that made me decide I should probably give the whole thing a rest. It’s effing dangerous and it’s toxic. It was either give up social media or give up caffeine and you know how I get without my morning coffee enema.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with social media and I’m not saying it doesn’t offer a great deal of prospects and opportunity to do good, it’s just that it was quite nice to take a break from it.

The first thing I had to get over was “the twitch” – the desire to reach for my phone like the heroes and villains of the old west would reach for their pistols. Any time I’m on my own, vulnerable or anxious, which to be fair is a fairly constant state of play in my life, I reach for my phone and busy myself in the world of Minion-based mum gags and photos of meal preps and protein shakes. Again, I’m not gym-shaming although I am possibly Minion-shaming. They’re about as funny as finding a lump while scrubbing the key areas in the shower. I found myself still reaching for my phone despite the fact I wasn’t about to shoot down anyone in the town of Red Rock and knowing I had deleted all social media applications from my phone on the evening of January 1st. To combat this, I took a tip from one of my favourite blogs, The Minimalists, and replaced the Facebook app with the Kindle app. I already have an account with Amazon and a Kindle but the app gives access to all the books you have in “the cloud” – that mysterious land above our heads which is slightly better than heaven because someone stole celebrity nudes from it. I also started utilising the podcasts app and am now addicted to The Nerdist, The Minimalists, Stuff You Should Know, Infinite Monkey Cage, Serial and Desert Island Discs. I’ve finally started reading War & Peace properly (currently at 12%) and I’m learning a lot more about the world around me.

I have however found a new addiction. I’ve started eBaying. I love the thrill of the countdown, the way the digits tick over, the fact that it doesn’t feel like real money for real things until they turn up and smell like other people. I’ve realised I’m going to have to have a clear out of my wardrobe in favour of all my fancy used things from other people. I’ve got far too many jumpers (when I’ve realised I don’t really wear them) and have so many coats that I could warm a netball team (I initially said football team but doubt I could stretch to eleven unless some of them were very small and could fit in a pocket).

I’ve been able to spend time with the people who matter to me and actually make it count. It doesn’t matter if it’s digging out dinosaur fossils with my girlfriend in the lounge, dancing to The Beatles with my godsons or running around an abandoned shopping centre from a horde of East 15 zombies, I’ve taken a lot of stuff on this month and won at it. There’s something about me that wonders if I will ever return to social media again. I know I’ve missed out on a couple of social occasions as a result of not being on Facebook and if I don’t make some kind of contact I could soon miss my own birthday but I feel like I’m actually connecting with people and enjoying things a lot more and without the desire to prove something to the outside world. I’ve had a number of conversations with a close friend about the nature of our social media selves – the version we promote – and that’s just as toxic. The second it takes to smile for a picture is bookended by the absolute sorrow that is life in the twenty-first century. Is anyone actually happy anymore? Does that happen for anyone? Answers on a postcard of your favourite Beatnik writer please.

This month I managed to finish a manuscript about depression, plan my next book, start the Insanity workout, help film a promo video, learn to make Huevos Rancheros, read seven books, get addicted to eBay, complete GTA V, run further than ever, remain reasonably sober, book a holiday and enjoy everything presented to me. I’m not saying my life is perfect and I don’t know how much of this is just the positive outlook I try to bring to the first month of the year but the fact remains, this month, without social media, has been a holiday.

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