into the fold illoo

About a month ago, having reached what felt like breaking point, I took the plunge and removed the small army of Facebook apps from my phone. Gone. Binned. No longer accepting notifications. Being abroad, I was fairly unreachable unless I had a laptop in my hand (which despite, my parent’s beliefs, is not every second of the day, unlike my phone).

It’d been wearing me down since the beginning of summer. I started university in September, but even before that, during term time keeping in touch with people beyond personal contact (i.e. face to face speaking to them with hand gestures and correct intonation no emojis et al) felt largely unnecessary. The odd message to those of my best friends who happened to attend different schools at the time, and then quick notes to those who had chosen the gap year route and were as such unable to access wifi that didn’t make FaceTime soul-destroyingly out of sync. I’m not sure what changed, but in the summers before university it felt more acceptable to drop off the face of the earth for a couple months to regroup, logging onto Facebook again in September with holiday snaps and some hideously grim embarrassing tween status (the world did not need to know what colour I had painted my toenails).

But at University summer is four months long. I run a website and six social media accounts, and that’s not including my personal accounts. I am constantly present and available, but Pinterest and Instagram and Snapchat are drop in, drop out; they don’t follow me around in the same way, and they aren’t personal. They’re image based, the need to respond and reply is limited. I don’t fret over what someone thought of an email because it’s work, it isn’t a friend or a boy or a family member. There is an emotional barrier, and even though the need to be constantly available is tiring, it feels acceptable to turn it off when the work day is done. They just don’t demand the same kind of emotional intelligence. Re-pin. Reblog. Upload. Reply. No anxious after-thoughts.

Facebook friends? They can see when we were last online, so simply ‘not opening’ a message so as to pretend you haven’t seen it loses its power as a genuine people-avoiding method. Logging on and not opening a message feels akin to sending someone a massive ‘I’m flipping you off right now’ emoji – except, it probably isn’t.

People have busy lives, people want to give messages time, people don’t feel like talking; there is a plethora of explanations, but somehow waiting for a response feels like a personal affront. A vicious circle of social etiquette: how long I should wait so as to seem chill but not rude, whether or not the sticker of a dancing rabbit was too weird, if they mistook my sarcasm for rudeness, if I’m annoying them. Suddenly instead of being left with the warmth you get from catching up with someone you care about, you’re left with this haunting anxiety that is inescapable because Facebook is so intertwined with the personal. Facebook is your social life, in messages, pictures and ‘here’s where I’ve been in the last 24 hours’.

During term time I see people enough that online contact is minimal: all the important stuff happens face to face. But it just isn’t acceptable to not speak to the boy you’re dating for four whole months, or to not reply to your friend’s message for twelve weeks, but my god it’s tiring trying to decode a row of emojis or a ‘lol’ in a place where you weren’t expecting it. In fact, of course you want to stay in contact because these are people you care about and miss. The problem is that there is no face to face contact to assuage worries or to portray IRL emotion; it’s all analysing, and it turns into over-analysing before you can even type ‘wait, just FaceTime me so I can hear you say that just to check I’m not misreading you’ (which you can’t type, because its just expected that our generation can translate internet speak into the tone in which they were intended…yeah, we can’t).

Perhaps it’s just me, but I was tired of avoiding the ‘seen’ tick, fed up of stressing over why someone had logged on but not immediately validated some hilariously un-hilarious cat picture or heartfelt message I’d sent an entire three hours ago. I was on the brink of throwing my phone at the wall, so I clicked that little vibrating ‘x’ on the app and put my phone away. I don’t want to be constantly available; no one needs me that badly and if they do, they can wait until I sit down and am ready to receive messages. I log on when I’m ready to be in that frame of mind. Or they can call, if loss of limbs is involved (I don’t think people actually Facebook message someone in a genuine emergency, is this correct? Or am I being too hopeful?)

After a month of ditching the burden of being constantly available and the mindlessness of scrolling through news-feeds, noticing how someone has replied to a UniLad video but not my message…generally wasting time watching UniLad videos in the first place, my head already feels less manic. The stress of waiting for, and worrying about replying to contact is limited to those few moments where I actively sign in and put out my hypothetical ‘accepting notifications’ sign. I know I’ll be able to give messages the time I want, and in the mean time, I’m not constantly aware of the messages that are or aren’t popping up on my phone. The thing about not being on Facebook at regular intervals throughout the day is you stop being so overrun by your online social life, the one that confuses and stresses, and you start to be part of real life. You stop harbouring feelings regarding someone’s messaging tactics that ultimately begin to leak into your real life perception of them. What someone thought of a comment, or a picture, or how you should reply to something just crosses your mind less. You get to live in the real world, no online reality impeding your thoughts and infecting that moment.

Follow Camilla on twitter: @CamillaAckley

Illustration: Ella Masters