My first experience using the internet was (probably) in the year 1999.
I was twelve years old and in first year of secondary school learning about an incredibly boring tool called ‘electronic mail’, not because it was particularly helpful or even interesting, but because it was pretty much all there was to do online at the time.
We were in IT class getting some hands-on time with computers. Let that sink in for a moment. We were twelve years of age and required actual ‘hands-on’ training to use a computer. A middle-aged woman in a tweed skirt and silk blouse was going through a step-by-step guide, showing TEENAGERS how to use EMAIL.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t newborn babies better equipped to used tech than most adults nowadays? How times have changed!
Anyway, back then none of us school kids were particularly impressed with the thing. After sending a few slurs to each other (e.g. you stink, you fancy Mr Seils the maths teacher) we were all itching to get out of our once exciting swivel chairs and back into a normal classroom setting where we could gossip, throw Blue Tack and the teacher and poke each other with pencils.
The internet was not a big deal. It seemed a bit too much like hard work. That was of course until we were introduced to MSN messenger.
For an awkward teenager like me (weren’t we all?) the ability to talk to people using an online chat function was a gift sent from the heavens. There was no fear of stumbling over my words, going red in the face or inadvertently farting in front of a boy. All of a sudden I could be smart, sassy, witty and knowledgable about cool subjects such as Bob Dylan and Irvine Welsh novels. I didn’t have to be the loudest or the funniest in a group of my charismatic peers, instead, I was allowed to shine in an intimate conversation between two, preferably with a shaggy-haired guitarist from the year above.
I should have realised back then that I was a non-verbal communicator. I am so much more comfortable writing out my thoughts than trying to eloquently form a sentence with my clumsy mouth. I’ve since learned that as an introvert this was always going to be the case, and I wish now that I had pursued my interest in writing from an earlier age.
Alas, my brief obsession with rock music at the age of sixteen (I blame that attractive guitarist) pushed me into a more expressive (or so I thought) vocation and I went to university to study music. Being around a bunch of performers was mentally exhausting, and although I loved singing can say for certain that I never once enjoyed performing on stage. I loved singing and I loved the admiration and the buzz that came AFTER the performance, but when I was actually up there singing I was praying for the final few words so that I could take my bow and get the hell out of there.
I remember signing up to Facebook when I was in third year at university. My mates and I had decided one day during a lecture that we should join because we had heard other people talking about using it to connect with each other online. We each logged onto a library PC, created a profile and just kind of sauntered away thinking, what the hell is this even for?
I graduated university without ever really using the internet. I used my lecture notes and library books to write essays, even though Google Scholar was available I think I was sceptical that it was all legit. I didn’t want to be penalised for cheating so I just did my research and revision the old-fashioned way, by reading books, listening to the lecturers and sneaking a look at my friend Vicki’s notes.
It wasn’t until I had a mental breakdown in 2012 that I truly, no joke, had the time to actually start using social media. You can read more about my mental state here, but basically, I was off work for almost a year and after a few months I had slept and cried so much that I was pretty much bored and ready to be mentally stimulated again. I had been working in a completely non-creative role for several years and didn’t realise that what I was looking for was a form of self-expression. I really didn’t know that writing would help heal me but I’m so glad that I found it, or that it found me.
I started watching YouTube and then reading blogs, and before long someone persuaded me to start my own blog. I created Fiona Likes to Blog and started uploading articles now and again, just for fun. As the years went on I grew bored of writing about my chosen topic of health and fitness. I ran out of gusto. I realised that there was more to life than dieting and lifting weights and felt the urge to dig a little deeper when thinking about what I actually wanted to write about. I wanted to be more honest.
That’s what the internet has given me. A place to be honest.
I know that for many people it’s a place to pretend to be someone you’re not. Somewhere to showcase a perfectly lit selfie or a photoshopped bikini pic, but I spent so much time pretending in real life that the internet became my space to exhale. My space to just be.
Social media is not perfect, but neither are we. If you need to use it as a way to boost your self-confidence then who am I to stand in your way?
I use it in the same way as I did as a teenager. It’s my safety blanket, my favourite tool for communication. Not because I want to hold up a curated version of my life, but because I want to be able to accurately comment on the reality of life. The highs and the lows.
You can read more about my journey with depression and social media in my book Depression in a Digital Age which is available now on Amazon.