I gave up smoking in the early 90s. I decided that changes of scene and routine would be the best circumstances in which to make the break, and my companion, now my wife, also reckoned this would be a good plan. So we decided that a trip to Singapore and Bali would be a good time to kick the habit. We had been upgraded to Business Class (those were the days) so we sat in the Lounge at Helsinki Airport waiting for our flight to Singapore to start boarding. We had bought one last ceremonious pack of cigarettes (yes, kids, you could smoke in airport lounges in those days) and sat puffing away over our gins and tonics.
An Indian pilgrim at a festival in Allahabad lights up for the first smoke of the day. But has he checked his Facebook yet?
The time to board arrived. There were maybe a dozen cigarettes left in the packet. Solemnly, we crumpled up the pack, making its contents unsmokeable, and gathered our bags to make our way to the plane. This was the allotted time at which we had decided to quit. Then came the announcement: a delay of 40 minutes. Damn. We could have smoked at least four more cigarettes each in that time.
Temple offerings in Ubud, Bali. Notice the cigarette in one of the baskets. Even the Gods like a ciggy.
I haven’t smoked another cigarette since. It was actually quite easy. I had tried many times before, aware that I was getting a reputation for smoking that special brand known as OP’s – Other People’s. This time I realized that I really wanted to give up and it wasn’t difficult. Sometimes I still lift a cigarette to my nose and inhale the scent of dry tobacco, finding it strangely pleasant. But I’m never tempted to light it. Sometimes I dream that I’m smoking too, but I never wake up reaching for a packet at my bedside.
‘Giving up’ probably wouldn’t have been in the vocabulary of these smokers in Hanoi, Vietnam.
So I don’t think I have an addictive personality. I can go a whole week without a drink. Like most people of my age and circumstances, I dabbled with drugs in my youth, but I never tipped into the abyss, although I might have looked into it a couple of times. Until now tobacco was the most addictive drug I’ve ever sampled, and I managed to kick that instantly. But now I find myself facing a much deadlier addictive beast: Social Media.
If you share my addiction you’ll understand. The urge to look at my phone in the morning – before I have my breakfast, before I shower – to gorge on the Facebook ‘likes’ being offered to me, or to feel a deadly slump at their absence, must be familiar to many of you. Likewise the thrill at that throbbing red heart in my Instagram account.
Delegates at a Helsinki start-up conference try to look important while actually liking silly videos on Facebook.
Largely, I blame Brexit and Trump. Both of them make me so angry that I need a way of venting my fury and receiving confirmation that my fury is shared. But I also blame my work, not because of the pressure it incurs, but because Social Media (or ‘Some’ as it’s now being called – oh dear) is the canal de choix for anyone involved in media production, especially if you’re freelance. A large part of my work is as a travel writer and photographer. So I get to boast about all the cool places I’m lucky enough to visit. It’s actually desirable for me to do this, so that people know that I ‘walk the talk’ in terms of travel. You’re not much of a travel writer/photographer if you never go anywhere, are you?
The conventional wisdom is that a presence on Social Media, whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Sprinkle or LumpedUp – OK, I invented the last two – is essential if you want to build and maintain the kind of visibility that converts to financial income. You don’t even exist without a presence on SM. Only a few brave souls are prepared to challenge this idea.
Russian vodka in a St Petersburg store. If you had to give up Social Media or Social Drinking, which would you choose?
The knowledge that I am addicted means that I have a love-hate relationship with Social Media, especially with Facebook. It doesn’t stop me living an active and interesting life (and lets me brag about its best moments), but it’s like speaking in a parallel voice that I don’t always recognize. I find myself getting sucked into outraged political arguments with people I haven’t even met, for example, afterwards suffering from the kind of guilt that you feel after a night in a pub making a lot of noise and with the vague sense that you misbehaved in some way. Or am I the only one who knows what that’s like?
A casino in Las Vegas. Those cynical designers of Facebook aimed to replicate the addiction of gambling. I wouldn’t bet against it.
Meanwhile, my dependence continues. And I am relying on yours to spread the word. So please feel more than free to share, tweet, re-tweet, post, re-post and like this blog to your (and my) heart’s content.
If you follow this blog you won’t have to keep looking at Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/timbirdphoto) to see when I’ve published a new one. And like a barman at happy hour, let me tempt you to visit my Instagram account at @tim_bird_photo