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My Digital Dare

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There’s a big wide virtual world out there, discovers social media-shy CATHERINE WHITE, when she spends 48-hours fully switched on and connected. But will she actually “Like” her new online life?

I have never been an early adopter. I don’t spiralize or “Nutribullet”, wear Shellac or spray tans, take selfies or use Snapchat. I’m also an introvert (perhaps the only one left). I recently took an online test to find out to what degree –on a scale of one to ten, with one representing extrovert and ten introvert. I scored 9.5 … That’s 95 per cent introvert – I don’t sit on the fence. According to this website, I prefer to “devote my social energy to a small group … I think before I speak … I feel overwhelmed in overly stimulated environments … and I seek out places of peace and sanctuary.”

I’ve also never experienced FOMO (fear of missing out). Ever. I don’t believe that wherever I am, there is something better going on elsewhere. I never feel nauseated by possibilities. I have never had a fear of “not being there”. And I never feel limited by enjoying each experience, one at a time. In fact, I know what I like and I like what I know. Does that make me boring, arrogant or wise beyond my years?

It’s not surprising then that I’ve actively eschewed the virtual worlds of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. My phone is not an accessory, it’s a tool. I can’t be bothered to upgrade from my unassuming iPhone 4S (and I certainly wouldn’t pay for it), nor do I have a fancy phone cover. Neither Dior nor Dolce can prize money away from me for one of those. I use my mobile to make phone calls and text. It’s almost always on silent and my home screen is an homage to my kitten, not to the latest apps.

But last month I challenged myself to 48 hours of being completely “switched on”. Two full days and nights (technically) of engaging regularly on all of the above platforms. Could I locate that five per cent of an extrovert that lurked somewhere inside me?

If “the pleasure isn’t in doing the thing, the pleasure is in planning it” then the same can be said of the reverse. The anticipation of those 48 hours was worse (marginally) than the actual doing. My “social experiment” began at 6pm on a Friday evening, at the end of a very long, very busy working week. Like any true introvert, once I close the door of my apartment behind me on a Friday evening, I slowly start to decompress and de-stress. The idea that my usual Friday night scenario – a glass of wine and an episode of The Killing on Netflix – would be interrupted, nay destroyed, by social media sat on my shoulders all that day with the same weight as half-done homework did on a Sunday evening when I was at school.

I arrived home that evening and sat my phone on the kitchen counter, looking at it tentatively with the kind of nervous energy I usually reserve for Google Maps. What now? I’ve heard friends bemoan those who do nothing other than post pictures of their pets on social media, so I left my kitten in peace. I considered Instagramming a recent piece of art I bought, but then I thought …pretentious, showy, dull, pointless?

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As an introvert, not only do I think before I speak, I think before I post – overthink in fact. So I resorted to an innocuous “Happy Friday” Tweet with a picture of the glass of wine I’d just poured. My work was done. For ten minutes anyway.

Next I logged onto Facebook. I’ve actually had a Facebook account for eleven years. My California-based sister, an early adopter and an extrovert (we get on wonderfully as long as we don’t spend more than a week together), set up the account for me. In those years, I’ve made a total of five posts, changed my profile picture once and “Liked” about 20 posts (at least half in the course of this particular weekend).

I didn’t make a single post over those two days, though, I just absorbed and responded to others. But doesn’t that just make me a lurker, a voyeur? Taking but not giving anything back. That’s what it felt like, looking at others’ lives but sharing nothing of my own.

So I swiftly left Facebook and went back to Twitter, scrolling down to see if the Tweets excited or interested me. Had I been missing out on an amazing resource of insightful reading? Could Twitter become a virtual mine of all sorts of useful information? Not that night.

There was too much fluff on my feed and not enough of the New York Times or The Cut. The experience of Vogue on Twitter was not reflective of the magazine and so – if it’s not sacrilege for a follower of fashion to admit – I stopped following. I found the speed at which the feed moved, the bittiness of many of the posts and the throwaway nature of a lot of the tag lines utterly off-putting. It sapped my energy completely. It wasn’t relaxing or informative, it was just noise. I went to bed (early!) that night happy to shut down. Over and out is right.

In the spirit of following through, I upped my game the next day. The whole point was to be a social media participant, not just an observer, so I started posting more pictures (eek!). I chose Instagram rather than Facebook, perhaps subconsciously because fewer people I know use this platform. Did I mention I’m self-conscious too? I Instagrammed pictures of The Guardian I was reading at the hairdressers that morning (random, I know, but I draw the line at posting an image of my head covered in foil), images of my cousin’s birthday party that afternoon – the marquee, the bunting, the cake, me with my boyfriend and with my mother. Looking for photo opportunities became exhausting, even with the supportive and encouraging ‘Likes’ I was receiving from my friends who were monitoring my social media adventure (thanks again guys).

By Saturday night, I felt absolutely over the whole experiment. Downloading pictures, checking feeds, posting ‘Likes’ and switching between platforms felt like a series of interruptions to my day. They were just more things to add to my to-do list, and I already have enough.

Then there’s that other very important quandary to consider: can I wear the same dress the following day if I’ve been pictured wearing it on social media? Is there a sartorial etiquette? Do I need to park that piece for the next few weeks? Can I wear the entire ensemble again or would that look like I wear the same outfit all the time? These are questions I needed answered if I was to move forward.

Sunday was a slow countdown to my 6pm cut-off point. When it finally arrived, I logged off – everything – poured a glass of wine and switched on The Killing. Sunday was my new Friday.

And since the experiment ended? I’ve tidied up my Twitter feed. Curation is the key to getting the most out of this platform. I’ve sporadically checked Facebook, but I’m still only a lurker and have yet to post anything. I think Instagram and I could be friends, but like any introvert, I need to take things slowly.e. 

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