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'There are days I don’t speak to another grown-up. Online chats keep me going'

Social media provides company at 6am when you’ve been up all night with a crying baby, writes Andrea Mara.

Andrea Mara Writer and blogger

SOCIAL MEDIA REGULARLY gets a kicking on, well, social media – articles and blog-posts bemoaning the amount of time we spend looking at screens and living online.

It gets a nervous kicking from parents worried about pre-teen kids – afraid of what’s ahead when they discover Snapchat. It gets a dismissive kicking from people who aren’t on Facebook at all and can’t see the point.

And a frustrated kicking from anyone who’s just unintentionally lost half an hour down a Twitter rabbit-hole.

Validation and addiction

Without doubt, social media has many, many downsides. Like the focus on validation; the sense that it’s not enough to know we had a good day – we need to post about it on Facebook to be really sure.

The quantifying of everything – number of likes, number of retweets, number of followers – subconsciously valuing ourselves in social media numbers. The competitiveness, the Instagram-worthy meals that make us feel bad about serving beans on toast for dinner. The disengagement from real life: the family in the restaurant talking to people online instead to one another.

It’s addictive, it’s compulsive, and more than anything, it’s time-consuming; sucking us from the real world, gobbling up our days.

Should we walk away?

So should we walk away – give up Facebook, shut down Twitter, steer clear of Instagram? Perhaps, but then we’d be missing all the good things about social media too.

Like alleviating loneliness. I remember when I was at home on maternity leave, sitting on the couch feeding my small baby, watching the rain batter the windows in a silent house and chatting online to hundreds of other mothers around Ireland who were sitting in similarly silent houses, feeding their own small babies. Asking questions about weaning, venting about lack of sleep, or talking about things that had nothing to do with babies at all – books, politics, that thing that was on TV last night.

Those early morning and late night conversations saved me during a time I found unexpectedly lonely. And while real-life friends remained paramount – social media didn’t replace them – I don’t think any of my real-life friends would have welcomed a 6am call to tell them how badly the baby slept. But Facebook groups were there at 6am, with sympathy and listening ears and virtual hugs.

A window to the outside world

Social media is a window to the outside world for carers too, those who can’t easily leave the house for an impromptu walk or a chat in a coffee-shop. And for people in remote rural locations who might not see another human from one end of the day to the other – but can comment on news articles and be involved in a wider discussion.

And then there are the work-from-homers, like me. There are days when I don’t speak to another grown-up for 12 hours at a time, and on those days, online chats keep me going. I have no colleagues anymore – nobody at the desk beside me, no-one I can vent to when everything goes wrong. But internet colleagues are always there – the other work-from-homers who need a mid-morning break just as much as I do.

Social media can be a channel for malice, but also for so much good – the #MeToo and #MarchForOurLives movements are two giant, global examples, and there are smaller, local initiatives too – like the campaign to raise money for charity and get the late Emma Hannigan’s book Letters to My Daughtersto the top of the bestseller lists.

Social media connects the likeminded, facilitates advocacy, crosses borders, and opens minds. And provides company at 6am when you’ve been up all night with a crying baby. That, alone, is priceless.

Andrea Mara is an author, freelance writer, and blogger at OfficeMum.ie. Her second novel, One Click (Poolbeg Press) – a psychological thriller about cyberstalking and social media – is out now in bookshops and on Amazon.

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Andrea Mara  / Writer and blogger

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