The opportunity for connection online is infinite. We get a head start to our day by replying to office emails on the commute, we know exactly what our favourite celebrities are up to after a quick scroll and group chats mean we never have to be lonely again.
But we’re more overwhelmed than ever. We’re drowning in a sea of never-ending incoming notifications and our communicational boundaries are shattered. We are reachable all-of-the-time and engulfed by shame and anxiety if we take too long getting back to someone’s text, email or Facebook comment.
Mercury Retrograde may be over, but for the record, healthy communicational patterns seem to be fucked all year round. I’m definitely bad at communicating via technology all year round. I don’t remember the last message I pinged off that didn’t begin with “Sorry for the delay…” and I avoid opening some emails entirely. I frequently go through the motions of feeling like a bad friend, a terrible acquaintance and ‘unsuccessful’ on the ‘gram because I can’t keep up. My technological social anxiety is real but I’m tired of feeling ashamed for it.
A few weeks ago (when in my defence, Mercury was Retrograde) I ended up drafting this same blog post but from an entirely different point of view. I’d just taken an extended weekend off to spend time with my boyfriend whom I wanted to give my full undivided attention. And I did - and it was the best. We went to see some rescued Japanese brown bears, had a campout with our friends and went to the spa. Time away from my phone is truly invaluable when it means I get to be fully present with the people I care about most. But it also meant getting extremely behind on replying to messages, emails and every social notification under the sun. And as a result of the increasing number of unopened notifications staring at me, I felt utterly helpless and too drained to even begin the task of wading through them all.
"I shouldn't have to apologise for not being reachable 24/7."
And so I began drafting said blog post about how guilty I feel for being constantly rubbish at getting back to people in a ‘timely’ manner. How I hate feeling like a flakey friend at the hands of having online social anxiety and how sorry I was for not updating Hook’s Instagram grid for an entire week.
But then it dawned on me - I shouldn't have to apologise for not being reachable 24/7. I shouldn't have to feel shame for taking a little longer to text back in non-emergencies. Or posting to social media for the sake of being present. Taking care of my mental health should be higher on my list of priorities.
I understand the constant influx of notifications can make us feel busy - something we’re all obsessed with seeming as an indicator of our ability, usefulness or ambition. But we’ve forgotten what it’s like to just be still. Author and intuitive eating coach, Mel Wells says in her new book Hungry For More, “why is it that in today’s society we seem to have forgotten how to rest? Doesn’t it seem that we’re always trying to prove to someone (ourselves) how busy and important we are?” And by that she means slow down, babes. Slow down on your phone, slow down on your interactions with others, slow down on your life. Slow down.
"It is unattainable at best to always have the time
or mental capacity to always reply to people
within a completely timely matter."
And I want to make this clear - I am not excusing flaky behaviour. I believe your friends should always know that you would have their back if they truly needed you. Or that sometimes delays are unavoidable. Equally though, that they’ll still be there on the other side of a text when you’re emotionally recharged. Because chances are, they needed the break too.
It is unattainable at best to always have the time or mental capacity to always reply to people within a completely timely matter. Which by the way, we also have a blurry understanding of. Earlier today in a Twitter poll, I asked people how long it takes before they start feeling bad for not replying to a text or DM (in non-emergency situations) and the results shocked me more than expected. Turns out 51% of people said they start feeling bad after a single day has gone by and they haven't yet responded. I too would fall into this category, but also, think a day doesn't seem long at all. Only 29% of people said they start to feel bad after a week of radio-silence and only 5% of people for over a week. The other 15% worryingly went to people who start feeling the guilt after just an hour - what does that say about our conditioning to be switched on and available for anyone’s disposal all the time?
Obviously some matters require urgent action and I don’t advise dropping all of your responsibilities. But I do believe re-evaluating our communicational boundaries so you can be better equip to manage those pressing emails or times of essential social media engagement with less stress and anxiety is vital now more than ever.