Accepting my actual relationship with social media

One of the few posts I’ve written so far was talking about how I hoped to have a kind of balanced social media participation – which for me also includes online forums, or at least the one that I bother to go back to periodically. Somewhat like this blog at the moment, so I’m just writing stuff and hoping it’s interesting…

I had hoped that finding autistic groups would make it easier to stay engaged and interested in interactions in general, just because I would be interacting with people with similar traits to myself. What I have learned is that my essential capacity for interactions is the important factor. This is something that hasn’t changed even if the way I use social media has.

Since I have had regular access to the internet, there was one forum that I kept going back to, and it has been the only forum I have sustained any presence on where I’m actually recognised as part of the community. On the other hand, I have always forgotten to check it for long periods, return for a bit and then leave it again.

The same thing happens with Facebook. I can log in, have a pleasant time making a few posts or reading what is in a few groups, remember that it does make a difference to check in with some similar people, and wonder why I keep forgetting to visit again. Yet the truth remains that I do stop looking at it for various reasons.

Firstly there is a problem with the site layout being somewhat wearing to focus on key content, and not ads, unhelpful friend recommendations which are likely to be people you don’t know keep turning up. There are browser plugins to help here but only so much. I’m also a little nervous about Facebook as a company holding huge amounts of my data.

There is also always overload. There is too much going on and I can’t process it all, and I get weary after half an hour. What I feel is being drawn into an manipulated by a thing that’s trying to suck in my attention.

Facebook has come off my phone because it becomes a distraction. I’ll be checking it too often and finding I’ve accidentally spent 20 minutes looking at posts or spending way to long replying to something. Then I remember what the site does – it uses people’s drive to find connection to push advertising.

I find myself wishing for another platform with no crap and focused on connection primarily, as opposed to promotion of business or music acts or something else.

The overwhelm builds up and then I put it out of my mind. I also find it hard to get much from reacting to memes and posts with a lot of “OMG me too!!!” responses. I’m not knocking the value others might get from this, but for me it ends up being empty. It could be because I’m a bit of a grumpy cynic a lot of the time, or I’m actually not hugely social.

That is a fairly obvious conclusion – I get some occasional positive benefit from social media as I do in real life with the time I spend with family or close friends. Fundamentally I’m not particularly sociable or particularly interested in sharing everything straight away.

This is perfectly fine. I’ve learned that within the group of autistic people there are many levels of sociability. Some of us have a special interest in people and sharing many details of our experience. There are also many of us somewhat on the edges of social media with a bit of an awkward relationship with it, or we don’t need it so much and the sheer volume of data causes us to bounce off it.

I think it’s enough to know it’s there and I can find people who are pleased to hear something from me or see me pop in. It’s how I get the most from it, without it becoming a burden to try and keep up with everything.

How social media failed to work and later started working. Hopefully…

I was unaware of social media until 2007, when a person I’d been friendly with at University who’d come over from Hong Kong invited me to this thing called Facebook, that I’d never heard before. He was one of a small number of people I had something approaching a friendship with at the time.

I got the concept of what it was, and that I could find people I knew with profiles and pictures and comments about what they were doing.

I started to see people I’d come across at university and started looking up people I’d known from school. Then as it seemed to have spread through work already I added more people. It was a bit strange for someone who was still socially isolated. I had this naive idea I could use text communication to get around my difficulty with conversation, but I soon realised the downside that social media could have for me.

For example, I found all the boys who had been the group I sort of hung around with at secondary/high school and considered friends. At the time I was aware of them having more of a social connection outside of school, but once numerous pictures came out of the woodwork of them still hanging out, pictures from each others’ weddings – you know, evidence that they still wanted each other’s company a sort of realisation dawned that actual friendship had somehow been missed.

There was also the issue that almost no-one actually thought to look me up. It was just me trying to salvage the threads of a connection I obviously never had. The only chap who did message me and say hello wasn’t even one of the people I’d regarded as a friend¬†as such!

To be fair, they were interested in hearing from me, but even so, I could see it was on the level of “someone I used to know but wouldn’t have occurred to me to get back in touch with.

It was the same as my life in general. It makes me feel like I was a sort of ghost floating by while other people had relationships with each other. Did I really exist as an entity in the minds of people I’d thought were companions at one point?

As time went on, I’d accumulated all sorts of people on Facebook I wasn’t interested in. Just junk from people’s lives. A colleague is playing a pointless game and this happened.

I started to drop the people I knew at school. Nobody noticed. I left colleagues at work for a while because it seemed impolite to drop them, but I believe when I was made redundant from that job I was tired enough of Facebook to completely delete my account.

So starting again, a load more people were added and I still thought I could get round normal conversation using text or reacting to things on Facebook.

What the FB feed looked like was pictures of people being normal, having friends, saying hey look at me with my friend eating food! Look how fun we are! We’re enjoying being normal and social and you’re just watching through this portal.

I deleted my Facebook account twice and re-added people,¬†removed them again. I ended up with something like 12 “friends” and never looked at the damn thing.

What’s really annoying is that after I was diagnosed as autistic, I was so triggered and annoyed by Facebook I failed to notice it had moved on to provide groups for interest and even mutual support. I could have typed “autism” or “Asperger’s” into the search field for years and uncovered an enormous community.

In late 2017 it dawned on me that I could look up specific groups for autistic people and found people like me. Unfortunately, I had a bit of a difficult start and ended up dropping it again for a few months. Overwhelmed by the amount of content, got a bit too involved with some individual’s problems and didn’t find the right groups.

However recently I went back in again and it seems to be a lot more positive.

Yet I find it interesting that I was so embedded in using Facebook as a way to bypass social difficulties in reality, I completely missed the idea that there were so many people I could engage with online. I could hop over all the NT bullshit and just engage with autistic people on our real challenges that most NT people can’t be bothered to listen to or understand.

I think what went wrong with me and social media is an indication of how stuck autistic adults can get in the pursuit of being accepted by NTs and miss opportunities to connect with the right people. There must be so many more autistic adults like me out there who haven’t had the same epiphany and are still struggling to try and work their way through NT Facebook.