I've been thinking a lot about social networking recently, and over the last few days I made the decision to take a step back from the websites that have been featuring too prominently in my life.
Along with most of my generation in the Western world, I've been on Facebook for about four years. During that time I have really enjoyed using the site, particularly the feature that lets you share photographs with your friends. This tool was invaluable to me when my younger sister was away travelling for six months a few years ago. She could put up images of where she was so that even when I couldn't reach her by phone or email, I could picture her in interesting or beautiful surroundings and feel that she was safe.
I found it interesting to connect to people from my past and see what they were doing now, and more recently, I'd enjoyed meeting new friends online. I'd connected with some fellow supporters of Manchester City FC which was really enjoyable - it's the family club to support as my Dad is from Manchester, but having lived most of my life down south I didn't know too many like-minded fans, as it's the kind of club you only tend to support if you're from the local area - unlike our great foes Manchester United!
Somehow the number of people I was 'friends' with had crept up to over 700 and while this was fun at first, it started to become a bit of an issue. I was tying myself in knots trying to make various lists with different privacy settings about who could see my holiday snaps and so on, and I was losing information about my closer, current, real friends as their status updates and pictures were blinded by the myriad of posts I had on my home page.
I had begun to compare myself negatively with some of my acquaintances on there, and I was also becoming increasingly anxious about seeing pictures and updates about people's pregnancies on there. I'm slightly ashamed to admit it was getting to the point where I was looking at images from scans of people I've never even met in real life, and feeling jealous and sad.
Something had to give. I knew it was becoming unhealthy and I was unsure about the emotions I was feeling when I looked at the site - why was I interested that a girl I was at primary school with has children? Why did I care if the wife of a Man City fan I've never met is expecting twins? And why did it irritate me so much that people who are nothing to do with my life now are announcing their news or posting pictures well before the 12-week date?
I'm still not sure of the answers. I'd become enticed into - or perhaps obsessed with - a world that wasn't real or relevant to my life and it was making me unhappy and stressed. So, yesterday I bit the bullet and I deleted 442 friends (including one good friend by accident who luckily saw the funny side and has re-friended me!) and am now down to 259 - it still sounds a lot to me, but everyone who remains on the list is someone I care about or who is important to my life now. Everyone on that list I trust, and would welcome in our home or go for a drink with. Sounds simple doesn't it, but I'd gone wrong somewhere along the line and I'm unsure why I had let this situation fester. It's such a relief that it's been amended. It feels like I've shed a skin and it is a real weight off my mind. Now I am genuinely happy to look at the site, and - while I may still check it more often than I should do, but hey ho, Rome wasn't built in a day! - I don't feel scared or upset by what I might find on there. Now I am just surprised that I let this situation linger for so long.
It is a particularly contemporary issue I think. Social networking is such a great tool and it has so many benefits. But as with most things in life it's all about balance. Hopefully I've gone some way to fixing that now. I certainly feel a sense of relief. And it's not just me that's felt this. This morning the Boy confessed to me that after I'd fallen asleep last night he'd looked on Facebook and found a video of a friend of a friend's newborn baby and felt so angry and jealous he'd got upset and had to get up and try and calm himself down. I wished he had woken me to share the sadness with me, but the heart of the matter is that it's an issue for him too. Goodness knows these coming weeks are difficult enough for us, without triggers and reminders from people outside of our normal circle upsetting us.
Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder and former CEO, sadly died of pancreatic cancer overnight. I've been reading a lot about him in the papers today, and I was particularly struck by this quote of his: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
I'm struck by the innate wisdom in these words. Such a powerful mantra for me, and where I feel with my life right now. Through Facebook I had been guilty of living other people's lives, when in reality I have an amazing one of my own right here to be cherished and enjoyed - and lived. I'd become cluttered with the thoughts, feelings, rants and negativity of others that have no bearing or relevance on me or the here and now. But today is a new leaf, a fresh page - a clear screen, if you like - and I start as I mean to go on.