I feel lighter, said my friend, and since I had been asking him to lose weight for some time, I asked him how he had managed it. "I got off social media." The bearable lightness of being came from not having to answer messages or indeed even read them.
"All those groups with various friends and work colleagues meant I had to go through hundreds of messages a day," he explained. "It used to take up all my time. Now I have time for television and other wasteful activities which I enjoy more."
I think it was the poet T S Eliot who said (long before today’s social media) something about being distracted from distraction by distraction.
I have only a light presence on social media which I use mainly to read stuff from favourite writers. Someone once called this a "selfish presence", because I received more than I gave. My friend had a heavy presence, and felt his existence lacked meaning unless he was told what some people had for breakfast or responded with a picture of his dog. "I tweet, therefore I am," he would say proudly.
Did this mean that since I didn’t facebook, I wasn’t? He thought so and spent a lot of time explaining to me the essence of modern existence. But he kept getting interrupted by his various groups every time we sat down to talk, and it was only thanks to me that he didn’t feel lighter earlier by having to drop me from his circle of non-virtual friends.
Psychologists have made a fortune out of explaining (their lectures are available on social media) the importance of non-virtual friends. What we used to call simply ‘friends’ in the old days or what is technically known as ‘real’ friends now. The pandemic converted many of the real into the virtual, of course, reminding us that behind names (‘handles’) exist living, breathing people.
But I digress. Back to my lighter friend, who confessed he also sleeps better, suddenly remembers poems from childhood and cuts apples without injuring himself, although I am not sure if the apple-cutting had anything to do with not having to upload holiday pictures on Instagram. Just like you can blame a single event for a multitude of problems in life, I guess you can give credit to a single act for a whole lot of good.
I am sure my lighter friend will have withdrawal symptoms, perhaps eat more, certainly talk more and land up more often on the doorstep of friends. Soon it might be time to force him to get back on social media and to his virtual friends – so he can leave his real friends in peace.