When I started my current job, it was the first time in eight years I needed to catch a bus to work. On a good day it took an hour and ten minutes to get to my office; usually just shy of an hour and a half. It was a pleasant delineation between home and work, were it not for the time it ate. Evenings felt abbreviated, and I constantly felt rushed, even if I had nothing planned to fill my evening. I did the maths, and bought a car. Petrol cost me the approximately the same as public transport, and I reclaimed two hours a day.
But this isn’t a blog post about scheduling - it’s about how I spent the time in transit.
I’m aware that being an internet professional skews my perspective, but I’m still surprised when people don’t use social media. Online games such as Farmville on Facebook were my mother’s lifeline when she became too sick to leave the house. She made friends online. She was able to research her disease extensively, and found a forum of people dealing with the same cancer, including similar well-studied amateurs trying out different therapies. Her oncologist freely, even proudly, proclaimed that mum knew far more about her disease than he did.
With that in mind, it should be perfectly understandable that I see the internet and social media as a force for good. I don’t care much for the negative and alarmist portrayals of zombie teens glued to their phones. Technological advances are inevitably disruptive, and we’re still acclimating. The problems that I see in the medium are far more advanced & nuanced than cartoons of the undead.
But this isn’t the blog post about internet’s impact on society, per se. It’s about how I spent the time in transit...
I quit facebook. Well, I still use it, but I used to defend it zestily against seeming knee-jerk complaints about design changes, or about the algorithm, or about teens and their addiction to their phones. One day my regular defenses of Facebook no longer held.
There was a period in which Facebook was used specifically for connecting with friends. It provided a casual and easily-maintained connection to people who might otherwise take some effort to keep in real-life contact. It was great getting narrowcasts when a friend got a new job, or married, or pregnant; not so vital for close friends (who presumably would invite you to the wedding or the baby shower regardless) but outer circle and warm acquaintances. It was an easy way of making your care, interest, empathy known to people you’d encountered only a few times in real life, just by clicking the Like button, perhaps leaving a comment. It bypassed that perpetual dilemma of what level of acquaintance it’s acceptable, or expected, to stop and talk to someone in the street (that dilemma still cripples me at the crucial juncture, a deep-set fear and flaw, beyond the reach of my heartiest efforts).
However, that’s not a primary feature of facebook now, barely functional. Now my feed is a timeline of cute videos, and news items distributed to evoke outrage. I like cute videos, but I already have those on tumblr and twitter. The outrage pushes my panic button, instantly, as does the occasional acquaintance carelessly expressing an opinion I find obnoxious.
So this is a blog post about my relationship with Facebook, but only inasmuch as not using it made me happier. The post title is the absence of Facebook.
I signed up to Instagram. There is still outrage there; wherever there are netizens there will be trolls and curmudgeons and entitled soapbox-dwellers with a seemingly insurmountable verbal gag reflex, but amid the users I follow they aren’t prevalent, and if they are, they’re lost in comments sections that are difficult to navigate, possibly by design.
Thought and consideration are still evident in Instagram posts - post because you want to share a little part of your life, and put some effort into composing that snapshot. Scenery, or a meal, or a good hair day, it’s all shareworthy, and those visuals and those connections make me happy. I get to see my friends again, and their environments. There are infinite dorky selfies of my favourite kpop idols, pulling silly faces (or not, in Key’s case - I guarantee he takes 100 photos and posts only the most flattering one). Superbonus - if there are trolls and curmedgeons, they’re commenting in a foreign language. Ignorance is bliss.
Of course, a significant part of the Instagram experience is taking photos. The Auckland skyline is a delight on a sunny day, or early in the morning. There’s the Sky Tower, a harbour, a bridge, and multitude volcanos, including one that’s an island. I didn’t think much of the Sky Tower when it was first built; primarily because of anti-Auckland sentiment that pervaded every town south. Then I saw it up close. Regardless of what it symbolises, it’s a stunning and magnetic structure. Of course it features heavily in my early Instagram feed. When I wasn’t on the net, I spent a lot of time on the bus listening to music and staring joyously out the window.
Finally, I rediscovered my Feedly account. Remember when people blogged? Turns out some still do, and a 40 minute window on a single bus leg is the perfect time to fit in a couple of proper essays. Concentrating on long form is also discipline and meditation, quelling my tweet-scrabbled attention deficit.
The greatest benefit of Feedly is the breadth and depth of new knowledge I’m now exposed to, and new ways to parse that knowledge. The blogs I follow are compelling in equal parts what they’re communicating, and how. They are the standard to which I aspire.
So that’s how I spent my time in transit. The conclusion is this: when confronted with regular unavoidable downtime, it didn’t take long to notice the negative impact of certain forces in my life. A thing can be positive and negative depending on how you use it, so I un- and re-learned the internet.
I confess, driving to work is more stressful, but I don’t have to leave till after rush hour, so that’s a blessing. Also, only 20 minutes door to door (mostly).