Who is bearing witness to your life?

group hugs. this is not the online collective.

group hugs. this is not the online collective.

At the beginning of this year I promised myself to lay off twitter – and social media in general – for while. And by ‘lay off’ I mean unfollow, mute, block, ignore, disengage with, step out of the mess of arguing, competitiveness, hating and awfulness that Twitter, especially, spews out into my eyeballs on an almost non-stop basis.

I decided to make a point of following beautiful, interesting, funny and educational streams. If that makes me a political ostrich and a bad feminist, so be it.

what happened is that i stopped attaching to my online life altogether

But what happened is that I stopped attaching to my online life altogether. I’m not online at night anymore, rarely tweet over weekends and I started doing what I’m advising people to do all the time: I switch off and focus on my primary relationship.

It had the affect of shifting my attention away from online almost entirely. Apart from simply having more time to do stuff like read a book, one consequence of this has been to see, in full glory, the role the gaze of the anonymous witness plays (or no longer plays) in my life.

a fav or a like or a follow doesn’t cover this, but it’s hooky enough to have you believing it might

Just before Mr T and I got together, I remember a moment of utter OFFS in Morla’s room about flying solo. It’s all very well being a strong, independent, smart, sassy, single whatsit whatsit, but I was frankly just bored with ‘aloneness’ as my daily reality. I was bored with my own thoughts, no longer challenged by my surroundings or mental landscape. I was bored with puddles, bored with the same rote dating cycle, bored with trying to find interest … bored with not being ‘seen’.

Morla suggested that humans, apart from being pack animals, need to be seen – to have their lives witnessed with authenticity and love, unconditional acceptance and vulnerability. To be known.

A ‘fav’ or a ‘like’ or a ‘follow’ doesn’t cover this. But it’s hooky enough to have you believing it might. Looking at how much overshare happens online, I wonder how many people strip naked – psychologically, intellectually, physically – on a daily basis, hoping to be seen in a way that will confirm their value as a unique entity. And I wonder how many people are practising a form of self-harm by doing so?

how are you wanting to be seen and by whom?

Creeping into the normalisation of living your life online is the question: How are you wanting to be seen and by whom? How much value are you placing in the gaze of the anonymous witness? How much time are you dedicating to it? And why?

These are the questions that have been tugging at me for a few months now. Tweeting, vlogging, blogging or instagramming fulfils a bunch of needs for me, but it’s no longer my primary partner. The moment I realised it was making me more sad and mad than happy and delighted, the relationship was over.

It helps, of course, that I have someone I now feel truly ‘seen’ by; that I’ve remembered to value my friends as witnesses to my life over the ever-hungry, capricious eyes of the anonymous witness.

In a way, social media is back to being what its meant to be for me: a platform for information to share and sometimes have conversations. sometimes it’s a place to blog some thoughts. But it’s not the place to live my life.

Do you think this is old-fashioned? I wonder.

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As someone who’s built this blog since 2006 and been a very happy camper on twitter since 2009, i’ve noticed an increasing disdain in my writing for the bundling of our private lives and online platforms. i guess it surprises and scares me a little.