The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

That Strained and Toxic Relationship...

The Strained Relationship I have with Facebook has become even more strained over the past few months.

Back in the earlier days, I did have a bit of an addiction problem with it. I'm a social person and enjoy finding out what everyone is up to.

Over the course of 13 years on Facebook I have amassed over 1,000 "Friends".

Believe it or not, I do not just accept friend requests from anyone – each is carefully considered.

Much to my surprise I have periodically gone through the list with the intention of at least getting rid of the people who I have no idea who they are, but somehow I seem to know who each one is, and why I did “friend” them in the first place.

I have occasionally "unfriended" people, although it's pretty rare for someone to piss me off so much I feel the relationship is unredeemable on any level.

But unlike the sneery responses I would sometimes see, I was always quite happy with people posting photos of their lunch, their selfies, and yet another sunset from their bedroom window. It was warm, friendly and done with good intent.

However, a few years back my newsfeed began to turn toxic. A combination of various UK and US elections, along with referendums on Scottish Independence and Brexit, led to my feed being flooded by outrage, fear and righteous indignation.

People were no longer writing in capital letters because they'd accidentally pressed the Caps Lock button: they were doing it deliberately to express the more extreme nature of their feelings.

Too often I began to see things like, “... AND IF YOU DISAGREE, THEN UNFRIEND ME NOW!!!”

But if I unfriended everyone I disagreed with on something, I would have no friends at all.

Including my wife and children.

Having always been one who believes in tolerance, debate, and doing my best to see the other person's viewpoint, even if I don't agree with it, these polarisations and extreme reactions I found very depressing.

In a way, it “cured” me of Facebook. I would no longer find hours had been mysteriously wasted, scrolling, clicking, commenting and sharing.

Facebook had become a place that made me feel sick and uncomfortable. Not all posts, of course, but enough to make me minimise my use.

I saw various friends denounce it entirely and disappear. Some came back again, but not all.

Leaving was never a real option for me though.

As a self-employed creative, Facebook had become a necessary part of my business promotion.

These days, unless you have more work than you can cope with, and it looks like that will continue forever, then making sure you maintain some kind of social media presence is essential.

However, with the onset of Covid-19, Lockdown, and Social Isolation, the desire – or need – to interact with others moved up to a new level.

The simple fact is, I'm not an introvert.

I come to life in company of other people.

Even the ME/CFS symptoms diminish when I'm in good company.

My energy is not drained by others, but enhanced.

My whole business is built around that.

I love to photograph people rather than landscapes or wildlife.

I love making people feel better about themselves.

I love going on journeys into other people's imaginations, which take me to places I would never get to on my own.

I love how everyone is different and has a unique way of viewing the world.

I love how everyone is the same – we all feel love, fear, hope, and anxiety.

But under current conditions I can't do as many photo shoots. I can't meet up with people for a coffee or hot chocolate. I can't even stop for chats in the street.

And I'm really struggling with this.

Don't get me wrong, I realise how extraordinarily fortunate I am that I'm in a house with a wife and daughter I love with all my heart, and we get on well together.

But I am very much a social animal.

So with all the limitations in the physical world, the virtual one is acting as the next best, or only, alternative.

And so my time on Facebook has started increasing again.

I am desperate for photos of people's lunches, their selfies, and the sunsets from their bedroom windows.

But with insane clowns in charge of the 2 countries with the highest death rates in the world due to Covid-19, and I happen to be living in one of them, it's not surprising that my news feed is constantly flooded by outrage, fear and righteous indignation.

And this is toxic to my mental health, and my ME/CFS.

As if sensing my desire to quit, Facebook's algorithms are getting sleekit.

Whenever I flip over to my newsfeed, there's almost always a handful of "nice" stories to begin with.

It must have realised that if every time the first item is something stress related, I immediately hit the back button.

But instead it lures me in.

Then, half a dozen posts on, it shows me something that makes me wince or sigh or inwardly recoil.

I quickly scroll past and am relieved to read of someone's anniversary.

But then someone has shared a link to an "interesting" article (if they had said “depressing” or “terrifying” I would have jumped past), and stupidly I go and take a look.

Half an hour later, having fallen down the rabbit hole of links and outrage, I am utterly exhausted, overwhelmed, and left quivering in a state of feeling extremely vulnerable.

And I feel gullible to have fallen for it again.

So I close the page, have a rest, have a coffee, do something else.

After a while – maybe a few hours, maybe the following day – either I will feel better and start wondering what my friends are up to, or I will be feeling low and yearning for some kind of social contact with the outside world.

So I decide I'll just see what's happening on Facebook again...


Pat said...

I hope you do struggle on with face book.
It's a point of contact to you and about 20 other valued friends which I would be sad to lose.

Kim Ayres said...

Pat - I have no intention of stopping anytime soon. I just have to be more careful what I click on!
Meanwhile, when are you going to get a webcam? Let's have a face to face catch up soon, Pat :)

daisyfae said...

Checking in again, after another long blog absence - and your post resonates strongly with me. i have deactivated my account on FB for a week here or there, but come back for the photos of grandchildren, of lunch, of a celebration of sobriety... the 'unfollow' tool has become my weapon of choice. When a friend is off on a political bender (right, left, anarchist - they all have their moments), i will unfollow for 30 days. it cleans up the toxic muck in the feed, and i can maintain a connection...

Kim Ayres said...

Daisyfae - I seem to be snoozing people for 30 days with alarming regularity at the moment, but still the fear and outrage of most people is making itself felt.
I need the connection with other people, more than ever since Lockdown, but I wish the quality of it was better :(

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