Internet Fatigue (and the burden of Insta-Love)

The Internet is a powerful, benevolent sorceress, providing me with seemingly countless ways to connect, share, be informed/educated, debate, communicate, and take action. The Internet is also a time-sucking witch, providing me with seemingly endless ways to procrastinate and act like a crazy person. When I signed up with Facebook in 2007, I never expected “Facebook creeping” to become not only a verb all its own, but an acceptable way to pass the time when bored at work, home, or on your smartphone (I feel like prior to Facebook’s inception, going through someone’s photo albums without being explicitly granted permission would be, well, creepy).

In so many ways, of course, the Internet has made my life faster and easier. Internet banking. Google maps. Buying tickets online. E-mail. But it has also added tasks to my daily routine: checking my e-mail (all three accounts, though I actually have four active, not counting the one I check at work), checking Facebook for anything amusing, checking Twitter for mentions, checking my WordPress stats to see if people actually read my blog or whether I’m just shouting into the darkness.

Checking. Always checking. It’s not an action with a clear purpose, like “Buy groceries and then you’ll have food” or “Pay your utility bill and you’ll continue to enjoy electricity.” It’s just….checking. To see. If there’s something I should pay attention to. Mostly, for the little hit of insta-love I feel every time someone mentions me on Twitter or likes something I’ve said/done/posted on Facebook. Somehow not quite ever satisfied that I’m liked enough to last me the next twenty minutes.

Facebook and Twitter give us an easy and tangible way to measure whether or not we (and our thoughts/actions) have the approval of our friends and acquaintances, and to share our enjoyment and approval of our friends with them. But the flip side of this instant love is instant failure. When we post something on Twitter that we think is especially funny/clever/important, and no one responds, we feel a loss. When we post on someone’s Facebook wall and they don’t reply, we feel bad. Instead of the little hits of insta-love I’ve come to savour, I feel the anxious prickles of insta-failure.

I assume I am not the only one who feels this, or has noticed the coping mechanism many of us seem to use. We distance ourselves from our online personas to the point that we become a brand of ourselves. Our successes and failures online aren’t the successes and failures of us personally, but only of the version of ourselves we’ve chosen to share. I myself consider my Twitter account to be an extension of some entity called “NiftyNotCool” which is a part of me, but usually not enough of me to make me feel personally vulnerable. Even under this persona, of course I prefer to receive insta-love.

Before you diagnose me as someone with poor self-esteem who depends on the approval of the Internet to feel good about herself, let me assure you that I’m not. I think I have the average healthy amounts of confidence and humility that make me, hopefully, not a total chore to be around. But there’s no denying that having people respond to you in a positive manner feels good, and being ignored does not. While the Internet provides us with so many more ways to respond and be responded to, it also provides us with more ways to be ignored. Though the emotional toll this insta-love/insta-failure takes on me is minor, its constant presence in my life is wearing me out.

Which is why I’ve been taking a partial break from my Facebook and Twitter identities. With so many things I want to learn and do and share, it feels good to shut out the noise and take some time to appreciate the aspects of my life that aren’t online. Brunch with friends. Reading in the sun. A nice walk through an East Van neighbourhood in full bloom.

Which is not to say that I haven’t gained enormously from reaching out online. My world has become so much larger since I embarked on this “nifty not cool” adventure last fall. I’ve met amazingly talented, warm, and generous people. I got to blog the PuSh Fest, see some great performances with people I met on Twitter, and eat possibly the best beer-butt BBQ chicken I have ever had (courtesy of Candice at Baked In Vancouver). Every time somebody tells me they have read or enjoyed a post of mine, I feel so flattered and grateful and tickled pink that I know my enthusiasm cements my “not-cool” status forever.

Internet fatigue or no Internet fatigue, as long as we have electricity, our online lives are here to stay. As much as I complain, I am happy to know every single one of the great people I’ve met in the past six months, and to them, I say this: you guys are awesome. The conversations we’re having are great. But the idea of another night with my laptop makes me want to throw it in the Inlet. The sun is starting to shine on Vancouver, and I’d rather hang out with y’all on a patio. Whaddaya say?