It is hard for me to start writing this piece because I have started writing it in my head a hundred times. I have tried to format it into a tweet, then a series of tweets; a long Instagram caption, a Facebook status.
This now happens with nearly every thought I have. It pops into my head and, as it does, I try to come up with a way of expressing it on a social media platform. It is frustrating because that didn’t used to be the case. Well, it was the case for a long time, then it wasn’t, and now it is again.
Like a lot of millennials hovering around 30, I grew up online and spent my early and mid twenties glued to my laptop and phone screen. a new app or website would launch and within months I would be hooked. I never really questioned it, and the constant technological innovations were too exciting to care anyway.
With every bit of myself I throw into the online ether, I dissociate a little bit more from what is happening to us.
First we tweeted by text, then Twitter got on our phones; suddenly there was Instagram, and filters, and Snapchat, and stories you could post, and gifs were everywhere, and Vine compilations were brilliant – and so on. Then something changed, around a year ago; maybe it was that we had hit a tech plateau, where new apps stopped being novel and bold.
Maybe I just aged; I had spent years live-tweeting my every thought, accidentally becoming semi-prominent in the process, and the constant exposure had started to feel draining. I also noticed that a lot of my friends were slowly separating themselves from their online personas. One by one, they started to tweet only sporadically, set their Instagrams to private, and generally became more guarded online.
I can’t pretend I’d gone off grid by the time the pandemic hit; I was still posting frequently, but had been making efforts to scroll less, read more books, and generally not look at my phone when I didn’t need to. It was a process I was working on. I knew letting go of such a deeply ingrained habit would take time, but I felt I was on the right path.
That all came crashing down the moment lockdown started, of course. Suddenly, there was nothing to do but scroll, and no-one to share my thoughts with unless I tweeted them. I even kept up an Instagram presence.
Looking back, it is impressive I managed to post so many pictures given how starved my life had become of things worth picturing. I soldiered on regardless; selfies, sunsets, buildings encountered on walks, close-ups of the plants I kept compulsively ordering online.
What saddens me is not that I became so hooked to social media again in lockdown – there was nothing else for me to do – but that I am yet to reverse the habit. Even at the height of the summer, when us Londoners were lucky enough to have most of our lives back, I remained glued to my screen.
I used to find it rude when friends scrolled through Twitter while we had drinks, but suddenly I started doing it. On several occasions, I stopped walking in the street to take selfies because the light looked nice on my face, aware and mortified that passersby were clearly judging me.
Some nights, I would go to bed, think of a quip and make myself leave my bed to tweet it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep otherwise.
I post pictures knowing that I will look at them again in a few months, and suddenly I am no longer stuck in the tedium of our current lives.
Once again, social media is taking up a huge amount of space in my brain. I check my notifications on each app constantly and always in the same order, like a ritual, and I am frustrated if I have done something interesting on a Sunday afternoon but forgotten to post anything about it. I’d long wondered what it must be like to be a needy, angsty 13-year-old in the era of constant connectivity and now I know; at 28, I have become one.
Still, I wonder if there is some deeper coping mechanism at work here. As middle-aged columnists used to claim, documenting our every move meant that we were not living our lives to the fullest. By obsessing over, say, the pictures we took on a night out, we forgot to actually enjoy said night out. I am not sure their worries were entirely founded – I’m fairly certain I did manage to have fun when I meant to – but perhaps they had a point.
Every time I tweet a fleeting thought and post a picture from my daily walk, I break the fourth wall. I invite an audience into my head and welcome them into my life, and suddenly I am not alone anymore, nor am I living in the present.
I post pictures knowing that I will look at them again in a few months, and suddenly I am no longer stuck in the tedium of our current lives. I’ve established a link to my future self, who will presumably want to remember what happened in the year of the plague, and scroll down her own Instagram for memories.
With every bit of myself I throw into the online ether, I dissociate a little bit more from what is happening to us. Suddenly, my life becomes a performance; a show about a woman trying to keep going through life when everything is uncertain and she feels quite sad and small.
Perhaps voluntary alienation isn’t the best way to go about all this and perhaps I should be feeling everything I need to be feeling so I emerge in one piece.
But perhaps that prospect is too daunting to consider, and instead I will keep my face close to my screen, where everything is a little bit less real, until it is safe to go out and live fully again.
Marie Le Conte is a freelance journalist.