social media

Writers’ words and the social media experience

I’m starting to recognize that people’s written words can create just as much “noise” as their spoken words do; possibly even more.

I can’t stop myself from conducting internal analyses of my social media experiences of the past few years. In one way they’ve been enriching. But in others they’ve been detrimental.

I switched off comments from followers on my Facebook statuses recently and suddenly it feels like so much noise has been removed from my life. It’s so much calmer and quieter. Not only do I now get much fewer comments on my statuses but also the ones I do get from friends are significantly more balanced and reasonable in every way.

As someone who writes for a living (I’m a science journalist although you’d probably never guess that from my blogging style), I find myself longing for the days when feedback on writers’ work was relatively less intrusive.

I wonder sometimes if I just struggle because I do certain things differently than others and thus find it difficult to accept their ways. When I read something – anything (a book, an article in the media, a social media status, a blog post) – I will either connect with it or I will not. Sometimes I don’t connect from the very start and I just pass it and move to something else. Sometimes I completely disagree with someone’s words but I find the logic interesting so I continue to read in order to learn what others’ thinkings on matters might be. Sometimes I find someone’s words just plain offensive. Depending on how offensive they are I’ll either not read on or I might remove that person’s words from my reading lists. So rarely do I ever comment on what other people write. Not that their words are unworthy of comment. It’s just that I internalize their words and try to find a way for me to make meaning of them for myself. Never – or at the very most extremely rarely – have I used someone’s written words as a way to judge their person or personality. Perhaps, as a writer, I simply know that would be a futile exercise. (more…)

Opinions That Matter and Those That Harm

Over the past few weeks especially, I’ve struggled with the intrusiveness that social media can bring. I wrote an Arabic language Facebook status several weeks ago that went viral, bringing in some 15,000 new Arab (mainly Egyptian as far as I can tell) followers in one day. Today, I have more than 22,000 people following me on Facebook. It has completely destabilized the way I use the medium.

I have many more followers on Twitter. My tweets during and after the Egyptian revolution followed by other tweets about Egypt and later about travel have resulted in almost 80,000 people following me on Twitter. But my relationship with Twitter thawed long ago. People I followed on Twitter (mainly Egyptians) had become very “loud” and whiny. “Conversations” seemed more like personal attacks. The small space available for words made me feel points weren’t getting across or were getting across in the wrong “tone”. I now rarely use Twitter. I mainly use it to tell people when I’ve published a new blog post.

But I was enjoying my relationship with Facebook. I was voicing opinions, telling stories and getting mainly what I would call reasonable and balanced comments in return. Mean people were few and far between and easy to deal with. Usually I didn’t have to deal with them at all. Friends or followers would respond on my behalf and the meany would feel outnumbered and eventually go away.

Now things have changed. And my experience of the past few weeks has caused me to think more and more about how some people’s opinions can be beneficial and thought-provoking while other people’s words can be very personal and hurtful. My experience has caused me to wonder whether I really want to know what everyone thinks about a particular topic or if I’d rather personally choose who I want to hear from. It’s also caused me to think more about the consequences of sharing information. If I share relatively personal information or opinions through social media, does that automatically give others the right to voice their opinions about me as a person? (more…)

News That Eats You Alive

I live-tweeted a whole revolution in 2011. I posted pictures, videos, I wrote a few blog posts…but mainly I tweeted an almost minute-by-minute account of what was happening during those 18 fateful days in Egypt.

I wanted the world to know. I wanted the world to hear. I wanted the world to see.

I’m not sure I knew what I expected the world to do once they knew what was happening, but it was important to me for the world to be on our – the revolutionaries’ – side. It was important to me to have the events documented as historic evidence of what we went through and what we faced.

I am very aware of this when other things happen in the world.

Yesterday, three young Muslims were shot to death, reportedly execution-style, in their U.S. home in what seems to be a hate crime. Two days before that, 22 Egyptians died trying to get into a football match. The police played a major role in their deaths. A few days before, news surfaced that ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot alive while in a cage. A few days before that, a terrorist attack in Sinai resulted in the deaths of 32 military personnel. Three weeks earlier, two gunmen killed 17 people working for a media outlet that published cartoons mocking Islam. In the days in between, a young Egyptian mother was shot dead while demonstrating in Cairo, ISIS executed God-only-knows how many civilians, people in Syria and Iraq are being killed and tortured, there are countless political prisoners rotting in Egyptian jails…it just goes on and on and on.

Every single life is important. Every single one. Every single life is a story; there are mothers and fathers and siblings and spouses and children and friends. Every story is worthy of being told. Every story needs to be heard, needs to be seen, needs to be known.

When horrendous and great things were happening in Cairo between January 25 to February 11 – and beyond – I needed the world to know the details. I needed the world to know how I felt about it all and how it all impacted me. I am a person. I have a story. I need my story to be known.

Every single person deserves that same amount of attention from the world.

But by becoming acutely aware of these stories and the reactions to these stories, I am, oddly enough, slowly losing my hold on reality. I am slowly becoming more and more anxious. I am slowly feeling more and more helpless. (more…)

Cycling Lisbon to Tallinn: A Look Back and Thank Yous

Eyebrows done: check

The route I took to cycle across Europe from its southwestern to its northeastern point.

The route I took to cycle across Europe from its southwestern to its northeastern point.

Hair cut: check

Perfume on: check

New change of clothes: FINALLY

Clothes washed: check

Tent laid out to dry: check

Bikes still disassembled in their boxes and tidily placed in the garage: check

Camping gear placed in its special bag in garage: check

Watch Come Dine With Me, the Jeremy Kyle Show, and Big Brother (in other words, all the crap British TV there is to watch): check

My husband and I stepped onto a RyanAir plane in Estonia to head back to our home in the UK last Monday afternoon. We had just spent a very lazy and relaxing two days in Tallinn, much of it sleeping and some of it walking around the enchanting old town and the city port. The highlight for me was the food. Those Estonians really know how to eat! I had a most amazing omelette my first morning in Tallinn. Who says that about an omelette? But that one was special. It had huge chunks of red onion, tomato, and mushrooms in it. I hogged down the special Estonian black bread with almost every meal. I had duck breast one evening and lamb on another. It was a great opportunity for us to recover before heading home.

Since I returned to the UK, I’ve kept myself busy washing, tidying, resting, watching crap TV, and gathering GPS data from the trip. It’s been nice. I was worried that I would have a bit of a culture shock coming back. I had settled into a nice cycling routine while in mainland Europe. I was enjoying having something to be involved in that I was passionate about. But by the time the trip ended I was ready to come home. I have a few things coming up that will keep me occupied over the next few weeks, including the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan. So I should be all right, at least for awhile.

During the trip, I was incapable of looking back at what I had done or looking forward at what still remained. I found that if I

Lisbon to Monaco

Lisbon to Monaco

tried, I was overwhelmed with the immensity of both. As a result, I found myself, with no physical or emotional effort on my part, living in the moment. While I was cycling, my focus was on keeping myself safe and getting through the next ten kilometers. When a day was finished, my focus was on getting a shower, eating, writing my daily blog diary, and getting some rest. The following morning, my focus was on understanding the route I would be taking for the next few hours.

On my last day of cycling in Estonia, I thought that the gates to all the memories of the past two months would come rushing at me the moment the trip ended in Tallinn. Instead, I somehow managed to keep those gates closed. I wasn’t ready to deal with the emotions that would come with the collective memory.

I’m still not ready. (more…)

I’m a Social Media Addict: Not

On January 6 this year, I suddenly woke up to the conclusion that I was addicted to social media. I wrote a blog post about this and decided I needed to cut down on my social media use. The following day I posted an update on my progress. This is my third and last update of my social media abstinence experiment. (more…)

I’m a Social Media Addict: End of Day 1

Today I decided to decrease my social media use. I’ve tried this before but it has never lasted for very long. A friend of mine was visiting yesterday and he told me how much better – and less stressful – his life had become ever since he stopped using Facebook six months ago. He also said that that he read lots of books since then. That’s when I decided: that’s it. I’m doing this. I’ve been wondering if I was missing out on life because of my over-use of social media. Now is the time to see if that is the case.

Today I went onto Facebook and Twitter twice. The first time this morning I probably spent about 30 minutes on it. This evening I found myself less interested in going through all my friends’ feeds. I scrolled down just a little bit and then stopped. I didn’t feel like I needed more.

During the day, I did feel a bit of tension every time a thought went through my head that I would normally immediately share on social media. But that tension was balanced out by a general sense of relaxation. I felt more relaxed today than I have in awhile, actually. It is almost as if being constantly on social media gives me some sort of an adrenaline high. Or perhaps it is the constant state of engagement that I’m in while I’m on social media. I was also spared the negative news I frequently find on my feeds and the general negativity that my friends will frequently and understandably express. (more…)

My Name Is Nadia and I’m a Social Media Addict (I Think): The Start

For a while now I’ve wanted to decrease my current level of social media activity. I think I’ve become dependent on it: addicted tosocialmedia it in a way.  I’d like to tell myself that this is partly due to the fact that I do not currently work fulltime. But if I take my memories back to when I was working full time, I think it is safe to say that I was over-using social media back then as well.

I can’t help but wonder what I might be missing out on in life because my face is stuck to a screen for so long.

I’ve been feeling a bit of a failure for the past two or three years, you see. I am a person who sees the amazing potential that I have but who also has almost no idea whatsoever to do with it. My personal circumstances have meant that I have had those two or three years without fulltime employment. But during that time I have been racking my brains over what to do next. I have an internal need to be innovative and creative but then I don’t know what to innovate or create.

Would I find the answers to many of the great questions of life if I spent less time on social media? (more…)

The Day I Became a Spy

I woke up this morning to what is probably the most hilarious news I have ever read.spy

A Facebook page called Revolutions & Secret Facts posted the following in Arabic:

“I have personally seen files originating from the State Security Apparatus posted on the official website of an international organization called Global Voices. This organization is sponsored and funded by Jewish Israelis. Spies who broke into the State Security Apparatus in Egypt sent these files to the organization. The files contain secrets about the Apparatus and the types of equipment they use. These files are still published on the [Global Voices] website. We haven’t previously alluded to this information so as not to aid in spreading State secrets. Among the official publicly acknowledged members of Global Voices inside Egypt are: …”

The status goes on to list the names of 19 people, all quite well known journalists, bloggers, and social media activists in Egypt. My name was among them. (more…)

Struggling to Find My Calling in Life

It has been a very long time since I’ve known what I want to do in life.  I’ve been racking my head over it now for months, probably longer. And I’m getting absolutely nowhere.

Yesterday I came out of watching The Hobbit thinking that maybe what I need to do is spend the next two years learning Kung Fu. Then maybe I could go back to Egypt and use my Kung Fu superpowers to save the country from the evil dragons that have taken over the country. I really did decide this was going to be my calling. Those elves and their martial arts really got to my head.

Two days ago I decided that spending so much time on social media was not helping me figure out my calling. Perhaps if I cut back significantly I would be able to spend more time figuring it all out. I have been using social media quite heavily for several years now and it has definitely not helped me find my calling; the evidence being that it has gotten me absolutely nowhere. I did go through a phase where I felt that communicating through Facebook and Twitter had become my job. My husband once asked me to put down my phone and to focus on the moment that we were in – we were travelling somewhere. I replied, “But Colin. This is what I DO!” I have definitely been through phases where I have thought that my Twitter and Facebook followers were hanging on my every word. When did it become so important for me to communicate my every thought to a virtual world? Two days ago when I made my decision to cut down on social media, a thought came to my head and I struggled with myself for hours not to write down on Facebook. I told myself that if I still felt it was important later that evening then I could write it to the world then. I didn’t. The status would have read, “The women at my gym in the UK show hardly any emotion when they workout while I grimace and curse the whole time. I wonder what they are like during child birth.” Clearly this is a completely inconsequential thing to say. Before the Internet, that thought would go through my head and it would then die there. Now it comes into my head and I have to tell the world. What is that all about? I must admit that I am now relieved it is out there in the world through this blog post, though.

But no. I have decided that social media cannot be my calling.

I have not always been at a loss like this. (more…)

Is Egypt Really Self-Destructing? Observations From My 1st Day Back

This post is directed to Egyptians using social media:

I am terribly disappointed in you.

I have only been away from Egypt for three months. In those three months I have followed my close friends on Facebook and a large number of Egyptians on Twitter who have yelled wolf, screamed, and waved their hands in the air as one drowning. Almost everything I read on Egypt’s social media over the past three months gave me the impression that Egypt was about to self-destruct. I was terrified to come home. What I read made me feel like I wouldn’t be safe in Egypt. What I read convinced me that there was no stability in Egypt. I had already started considering the possibility of immigrating with my children to another country.

It took me only one day back in Egypt running normal errands to see that the country is exactly the same country that it has been for more than 20 years. All the bad stuff is still here. But all the good stuff is still here too. I wasn’t raped or harassed. Bearded men and face-veiled women had nothing but smiles on their faces and kind words on their tongues. The supermarket and mall were full of people buying things, meaning there must still be money in the country. Egyptian men are not out to rape me. The Islamists are not out to eat me alive. And the economy is still chugging along.

What Egyptians are posting through social media will inevitably keep Egyptians abroad from feeling safe enough to come home and tourists from feeling safe enough to visit the country.

Egypt is the same that it has been for 20 years. Yes. We have had a revolution and very little has changed for the better. But we still have lots of hope that it will. For change to happen we need to work very hard. Real change does not happen in 18 days. Real change takes decades of hard work.

If you are an Egyptian using social media, take some time to consider what you post before you post it. By focusing only on the negative you make it appear much worse than it actually is. By refraining to mention the positive, you make it appear that Egypt is nothing but a pile of shit. For those of us who are not always in Egypt, we have come to depend on social media users to get a sense whether what is published in the media is representative of reality or if it’s an exaggeration of it. When we see Egyptians echoing what the media says, we believe it. So stop blaming the media for scaremongering. Most Egyptians using social media are doing it far better than the media is. What that means is that Egyptians living abroad and tourists will not want to come to Egypt. Our country needs them both if we are to develop and to prosper.

Before you write your next status or tweet your next tweet, consider what effect it will have on people outside of the country. You terrified me. I am sure you are terrifying others. Be honest. Be balanced. Write as much about the positive as you do about the negative. Build Egypt. Stop destroying it.