I’d forgotten to bring a magazine to read and someone else had already nabbed the Starbucks newspapers.
I sat down with my steaming soy latte and wondered how I was going to distract myself for the next twenty minutes or so. Because there’s a limit to the length of time you can gaze around a packed coffee shop before people start wondering what the heck you’re looking at.
I don’t have a phone that does anything other than make calls, so scrolling wasn’t an option.
I rooted about in my bag and pulled out my little paper planner, turning to a blank page. I wrote at the top, “What is my problem with social media?” and underlined it.
It was time to get to the bottom of my years’-long uneasiness, once and for all.
I was first drawn to Instagram because it gave me an outlet for my creative pursuits. In fact, in time, I found the very act of coming up with content for my feed a creative role in itself.
I enjoyed spotting pretty things to snap; I loved staging my pictures and posting them to form a patchwork quilt of pretty little glimpses into my world.
Instagram also instantly drew me into a community of super-talented creatives and the place was so uber-positive, that it gave my fragile ego a much-needed boost.
It was a simple way to keep up with others’ lives and also quite the education when it came to glimpses into the global girls’ lives.
It gave me a platform for expressing my views – especially those on simple living and spirituality. It also brought my work under the noses of the top creatives and did wonders for my papercrafting ‘career’.
It was *so* much better than facebook in my view (which I’d found utterly addictive and ditched pretty quickly anytime I’d attempted to make it work).
Okay, I needed to keep an eye on the length of time I was hanging out on Instagram, but overall, I found it exciting, thrilling and an enormous ego-boost.
Which is perhaps where I hit problems.
When your online life is thrilling, sociable and ego-boosting, your somewhat ordinary, quiet and introverted real life can start to feel a little lacking by comparison.
And when your work starts to attract attention, you slip into a place of *needing* the likes without even realising it, feeling your mood dip when they don’t come – or don’t come as thick and fast as the next creative.
Your process itself becomes affected, because before you even pick up a sheet of 12×12, you’re thinking in terms of which ‘make’ your feed needs next to keep it looking balanced and lovely.
You’re wondering which technique will impress and bring in the love; you’re picking your product and photos based on what you know will please, because – like it or not – those numbers do start to matter.
Then before you know it, your little sanctuary of creative time has been trashed.
Gone is the gentle, contemplative joy of pouring out what’s in you to be expressed next, only to be replaced by a pounding heart, brimming with adrenaline at the prospect of being back out there, sharing and showing-off.
You’re rushing to get your page done before the light fades, so you can get a decent photo. Or you’re taking shots of your desk covered in pretty things, because that’s a nice low-effort way to get yourself back out there under everyone’s noses and quick.
If it sounds like I have issues, you’re right: there probably are questions that I need to be asking.
I just know that if creating that little grid becomes more important than creating the layout itself, alarm bells need to ring.
Things venture into tricky waters in terms of friendships too.
Because as spiritual people, we’re created to care deeply about others’ pain, to enter into it and really try to be there for others. But that becomes a stretch when you’re attempting to walk alongside 200-odd people.
The alternative of course, is kind of being there, only sporadically and on a bit of a ‘friendship-lite’ basis… but it’s far from ideal.
It raises the question of whether social media is the place for deep friendships in the first place; whether transparency even works online.
If I’m honest, the times I’ve tried to be upfront about struggles on social media have left me feeling more wounded than I did before I shared: my typed words perhaps failing to convey the depth of my pain and any typed responses failing to convey very much comfort, however much may have been intended.
Perhaps social media is the place for pretty and happy only: bright smiles, shiny hair and cute cats in superman poses.
But does the entirety of anyone’s life look like that? Where are the sinks full of dirty crockery and un-made beds? Where are the struggles with loneliness, the breast-lump scares and the losses of temper with our kids?
All that pretty is just not the full story. I may assume that people realise that these sugar-sweet images are highly-edited snapshots – my life’s highlight reel – but do all of my followers necessarily realise that?
And then there’s how we’re left feeling after our stints on social media. Whether all that comparison and sort-of-socialising does much that’s positive for our souls.
Whether the plunging sadness we feel when we clock how many people have ‘unfollowed’ us since we last checked becomes hugely disproportionate to the fact that these are people we don’t even know and that their ‘unfollow’ probably reflects nothing more than a routine feed-prune.
Whether we finally click off and go to bed feeling a little low that we don’t get to go to Disney; a little envious that we didn’t make the team; a little disappointed that we’re not courageous enough to get out there and let our hair down at the party… and a little sad that we weren’t actually invited, even if we were.
And let’s not forget the question of addiction.
Of course, we could stop if we wanted to, but we don’t want to.
We could ditch any of these platforms at any point, but because we never do, we don’t ever find out for sure. It’s never, ever tested (which is lucky, as we have a hunch that quitting would be beyond hard, not to mention downright depressing).
As a person of faith, the uncomfortable concept of idolatry feels like it’s never that far from me, hanging around like an unwelcome cloud.
“Who do you love?” it whispers, “Whose approval do you desire the most?”
I think my main concern with social media though, is that we can fall into the trap of looking to it to provide something that it will never, ever be able to provide.
We each have a deep desire to be seen, heard, loved and understood.
And however many followers we have, however popular we become, however many times people tell us that we’re talented and fabulous and beautiful and clever, and however many companies fight to have us represent them – a social media platform will never satisfy our hearts’ deepest desire.
The desire to be known, loved and accepted – even at our very darkest.
Alarm bells ring for me when ‘Scrappy Suse’ becomes more important than the real me: when I just start to like her more.
When I don’t want to meet people in real life, because they’ll see how I look my age away from the good lighting. When I’m picking out cute outfits in the morning, because today my feed requires a selfie. When I don’t want to teach a real-life class because people will realise that I don’t have *a single clue* what I’m doing ahead of that finished result.
And there’s a Hallelujah Chorus of alarm bells when I realise that I fear putting a pin in that online persona, because I’m frightened of facing up to how very plain my life is outside of her.
Perhaps there’s a happy place where I can express the real me online – piled-high sink, greying roots and all – and be at peace with that.
Perhaps commenting, “I’m praying for you” on a depressed friends’ update is better than not showing up at all.
Perhaps I can determine to be so focussed on God’s view of my worth, that I don’t even notice that stupid little ‘followers’ figure.
I’m not sure.
But it certainly gave me something to think about over my latte.