About a month ago, I decided to take a break from social media. In many ways, it pains me that this is even a thing, to ‘take a break’ from a few websites and apps.
I’ve been an Internet gal for as long as I can remember. First were the Freewebs websites, home to ‘dolls’ and my personal arcade and a guestbook (before my school bullies found it, flooded it with rude messages and printed the pages out to plaster on school walls). Then came MySpace, a place where I could happily be myself, until the school bullies found it, flooded it with rude messages and… You get the gist.
Daisybutter has always been my cosy spot to write and share as I see fit. Over the years, I’ve understood my responsibility that comes with a platform that reaches hundreds of thousands of people each year. But somehow, all of the bits that suddenly felt essential caught up with me. Sharing more on Twitter to show how relatable I could be. Churning out photos I didn’t connect with to ~grow~ on Instagram, a platform I don’t even own.
Earlier this year, I accidentally went viral on Twitter and managed to draw attention to an underrepresented community that I’ve always been a part of — British-born Chinese. I felt so proud that my voice had made waves and ‘reached’ 19 million people. And then came the torrent of abuse. Public replies, private messages. You can turn DMs off, but you can’t unread the messages you’ve already seen, seared into the back of your mind. From there, the social media exhaustion was constant. I could barely keep up with my offline life (enduring thinly veiled micro-aggressions and outright racism linked to COVID-19 assumptions, learning to live and work during a pandemic), and the prospect of appearing present and attempting to appease online algorithms knocked me from my feet. The waves became a tsunami and I wasn’t swimming or even treading water. I was sinking.
Then, my attention was drawn to a racist comment that Hannah Gale (a content creator who is now offline) had made seven years ago and that she had failed to address, apologise for or delete after being repeatedly asked to. Though not a Hannah Gale reader myself, I privately messaged her for a response and her reply was lacking. Messages and Tweets flooded my social media, vying for attention and to ‘get the tea’. Thinking the best of people, I replied to them. They didn’t unfollow the person, they didn’t call her out or show any support of the Chinese community. My personal outlook was not to out Hannah publicly because I firmly believe people should have the chance to right their wrongs. Cancel culture isn’t productive, but giving people the chance to be better is. Alas, she didn’t. When you ‘apologise’ for a comment that is racist and offensive, you don’t position yourself as a victim. You don’t repeat the racist slur twice more in the apology.
My own energies have been thrust into unwavering support for the Black Lives Matter movement. It is of utmost importance and until Black people begin to experience a glimmer of the privileges us non-Black people are afforded, equality cannot exist. But I felt pretty downtrodden and heartbroken that people in the blogging community I’d seen as allies were proving they weren’t. It’s pretty horrifying to move, even digitally, in circles where you know you’re not really all that welcome.
So I stopped. For three weeks. And it’s been amazing.
How It Feels to Not Be Online
What struck me first about not being on social media was how much time I suddenly had. Not least because of the hours and hours I’d spent scrolling through feeds, but how much my focus and concentration improved for everything else. I could sink into my morning routine of a book and coffee without capturing it perfectly on a faux analog film filter. I could lounge around in the garden on my tea break without wondering what length of caption would ‘perform best’. The next thing I suddenly noticed was that I’d even been squirrelling so much of my precious time away on these menial tasks. Suddenly I was glad not to be commentating the everyday minutiae of a life lived indoors in the hope of a glimmer of validation. Because that’s what it was. Social media, for me at least, hasn’t been about sharing creative work for a long time. It’s been about keeping up appearances, and suddenly when I began sharing and doing the meaningful work of social activism, the numbers plummeted.
What Has Changed During the Detox
Like I mentioned, being away from social media has been amazing.
I’ve felt secure in the knowledge that my content on Daisybutter is what’s always mattered first. My readership has continued to grow and thrive, in spite of me not being ‘always on’. In fact, I think clawing back on those parts of my online self has been best: readers don’t have to go elsewhere to seek out the things that want to see. I’ve also felt much more inspired, and free to create and write how I want to. Sending things out on my terms without adding hashtags, those bat signals to herd in visitors, and jumping through hoops just to be noticed as Chinese woman in a Eurocentric space. Outside of the blog, I’ve been generally happier on the whole, and motivated to do things. Both the big tasks and the everyday, safe in the knowledge that it doesn’t need to meet anybody’s standards but my own. And I’ve also realised that I still enjoying capturing and documenting life’s little joys. Photos are still been taken, words are being written. Just at a slower, deliciously slower, pace.
So What’s Next?
I’m going to dip my toe slowly back into the social media ocean. An inch at a time (how big is this toe?!). I’ve really enjoyed not being immersed in the noise of Twitter and the flood on Instagram. I’ve really missed my online pals — you!! — and I often find myself wondering what you all might be up to. But, for now at least, I’ll be orbiting Daisybutter for a while. My Twitter will be updated a little, but I hope to retain this current magic of not hearing strangers’ opinions of my race or experiences. My Instagram might become more of a photo diary as I rocket towards my thirties and buy a house, reach for those bigger career goals. And you’ll always have me right on these digital pages.
Welcome back, I’m glad to be around (more).