In the beginning there was… Instagram. No wait, Facebook. It really began with Facebook.
Ok let me back up a little. I have been writing daily for a while now. I have a far-flung network of friends and family, from the US to Cambodia and many places in between. While many people complain that social media these days is weakening personal relationships in real life, with the youth unplugging from real life and plugging into the internet, I revel in the easy ability Facebook gives me to stay in touch with a lot of people at once. If this were the 19th century I’d be at home, managing the household, cooking dinners, raising the wee beastie, and spending my days writing elegant long-hand correspondence to my friends.
It’s not the 19th century though, which is good because I can’t cook and I make a terrible stay-at-home mum. I do manage the household and work full time. And I’m raising a wee beastie with my husband. And that is more than enough to keep me so busy that if I was limited to sending letters or even regular emails to ALL the people I would like to keep in touch with nothing would ever get done. So yeah, in the beginning there was Facebook.
What I find ironic about the criticism that Facebook actually inhibits proper socialising is that I have actually found myself making better connections with people through this oft-frustrating medium than I would without it. Do I like knowing what my high school classmates are doing with their lives? Yes. Am I going to send them emails out of the blue saying “hello, we haven’t spoken in over 15 years but I’m curious what you’re up to these days. Care to share?”
Um… no. Let’s not.
Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with people I have lost touch with after leaving high school and college. People that I was never particularly close to, but that I enjoyed knowing in the academic environment. Many of them have gone on to lead interesting lives. And very surprisingly, I have drawn closer to some of them now with the help of social media by sharing our daily lives, points of view, adventures, and thoughts, whereas without Facebook I would have never reconnected with them at all. In fact, one or two casual Facebook connections have even blossomed into very close long-distance friendships that I truly cherish now.
Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, the beginning. I suppose Facebook was the real beginning. I kept in touch with old friends, new friends, family friends, classmates, colleagues. I dipped in and out of the social media platform. Had my share of funny cat photos, memes, videos, and all the other dross that accumulates in these digital spaces. But one thing I did not do is engage in serious discussion on inevitably controversial topics. One reason is that there’s no denying that Facebook is an echo chamber and to a certain degree you’re already arguing with like minded people. But also because it is the nature of the internet to distort discussion, in my opinion. By stripping away all context other that the very words, debates on the internet become pitfalls of unintended insults, hyperbole, and miscommunication. Add a certain degree of anonymity if you’re moving beyond your immediate circle of friends and you can add trolling and outright harassment and abuse and it’s basically shouting over each other with no real dialogue happening. I can’t count the number of times I’ve angrily typed out a very long response to some ridiculous statement before hitting the delete button and walking away. Most of the time, engaging in this fashion is just. not. worth it.
Then the most recent presidential election in the US came along and I found myself letting go of my self-imposed inhibitions in this regard. Some things, after all, are worth fighting for.
At the same time and unrelated to this unexpected voice I found within myself, I decided on a very casual whim to try the #100happydays challenge on Instagram. I have been focusing on ways to be more positive in my daily thinking, to find strategies that let me step back, even if only for a minute or two, and rise above the clouds generated by the mental fog of the daily grind and parental exhaustion. I didn’t plan on taking it very seriously. It was just meant to be a bit of fun with photography and a few words or sentences every day, right? RIGHT?
I was completely overwhelmed by how powerful this challenge can be, how much it can influence your thoughts if you let it. Initially, I was taken in by the ability to scratch that creative itch I don’t have a lot of time for at the moment by finding ways to visually portray what you’re thinking. Then I thought that I must be cheating because I found myself actively planning ahead on what subjects I might use for each daily photo based on my schedule. It wasn’t until about two weeks into the project that it occurred to me that trying to plan on a specific “happy moment” for each day was not cheating. It was EXACTLY the whole point!
It became a mental self-care mechanism. An easy way to check in once a day with yourself and ask “was there anything about today that was positive?” Some days there was a plethora of things to choose from. Other days it was a struggle to find the energy to even pick up the phone for a snapshot. But I stuck with it. And I wrote about it. And my posts got longer, and longer, and …. well… let’s just admit right now that brevity was never my strong point. And for some bizarre reason, people kept reading. Making the 100 days a public challenge meant my friends, as a potential audience, kept me honest.
Did I get to 100? I did.
Did I stop at 100? I didn’t.
Why? Because I found my voice. It was liberating. I suddenly had so much to say and I needed somewhere to let it all out. Instead of stilted legalistic writing that I had unconsciously adopted over the years from working in a law firm I found myself rediscovering what I sounded like before that happened. It was like rediscovering my beloved but dusty journal diary which I missed dearly but didn’t have time for.
Also, I’d like to think I may have found some sass and sarcasm along the way but I think that depends on how awake I am whenever I’m writing.
So this is not the beginning. This is, in fact, Day #106 of this journey. The beginning was Facebook. Let’s instead call this a new Chapter