Jen Hogan: Twitter and Instagram provide my WFH water cooler moments

Despite warning children about befriending people on social media it’s easier to preach than to practise

I’ve never met the vast majority of the people I chat with regularly on social media, and others only once or twice at most. Photograph: iStock

I’ve never met the vast majority of the people I chat with regularly on social media, and others only once or twice at most. Photograph: iStock

 

“What did you get in Penneys?”read one message among the many new notifications on my phone. “I can’t wait to get everywhere waxed,” said another, “a post-lockdown wax-ination”, the message sender continued, making me laugh out loud by this point. Relaxed, comfortable chats among friends it might appear to the untrained eye and yes friendships of sorts, but friendships and camaraderie based entirely in the world of social media.

In fact, I’ve never met the vast majority of the people I chat with regularly on social media, and others only once or twice at most. The sort of relationships and friendships we might have cautioned our children against. “Never befriend someone on social media who you don’t know in real life” is a warning most likely left ringing in the ears of my teenagers anyhow. Yet it appears to be a real case of not practising what I preached.

All the work and none of the craic risks making Jen a dull woman, so I have my water cooler moments over Instagram and Twitter instead

I use social media for work, and couldn’t manage without it in a work capacity, but, if I’m being perfectly honest I’m not sure I’d cope too well without it in a social capacity either. It has been a lifeline for this not-too-fond-of-her-own-company-er during restriction times. Though it didn’t take the pandemic to make me appreciate its value.

I worked from home – or WFH as it’s known now – long before it was the fashionable thing. But while others said how envious they were of my new arrangement, I didn’t and still don’t really like it. The flexibility is great, especially when it comes to trying to juggle my many family commitments, but the boundaries are often blurred and I really miss having colleagues to chat to, complain about, and share a coffee with. All the work and none of the craic risks making Jen a dull woman, so I have my water cooler moments over Instagram and Twitter instead.

And these water cooler moments don’t necessarily happen between the 9-5 hours of office life. When I’m a pulling a 3am-er because life got in the way of a deadline that’s looming, there’s always someone there whose child won’t sleep (I’ve been that soldier), whose pandemic-induced insomnia has taken hold again or who is engaging in revenge bedtime procrastination, just to get a little time to themselves. Ironically, it’s the latter who’ll often remind you to stop actually procrastinating and get that piece written.

Behind each social media handle is a person and their story. I’ve been privy to pregnancy secrets, gender reveals, health worries, financial worries, job celebrations, mundane happenings, personal achievements, marriage proposals and, sadly, losses of loved ones. There have been chats, laughs, tears and that universal discussion of the pandemic as people adjusted to spending so much time around their partner – “how on earth are we going to cope with the retirement years?”

Those are the days you wonder why you stay on these platforms at all. And then I remember, many of my tribe hang out there, just like they did through those lonely days of lockdown

And it’s brought me comfort too. Like the time I fell and cut my knee in full public view, ripping my jeans and spilling the contents of my handbag in the process. But the full horror was yet to unfold. As if in slow motion and through tear-filled eyes I could see a van slowing down alongside me. It was obvious what was happening, he was going to stop and check if I was okay. I willed the ground to open up and swallow me and my cut knee, such was the mortification of my graceless tumble. But no, the ground would not oblige, and so I was subjected to the kindness of this decent human being, cheeks ablaze throughout.

I was shook after the fall. It was pandemic times and my mother was in a different county, so like a child needing reassurance I turned to the mammies of Instagram and relayed the story like a scene from an episode of Casualty. They sprung to action and messages came flooding in. “There’s absolutely nothing worse than falling in public,” one message read. “Nothing worse,” I agreed, privately wondering how one might tell if they’d cracked their kneecap.

The next morning I woke to several messages asking “how’s the knee today?”, you know, the sort of messages real-life friends might send.

But aside from the virtual friendships and the camaraderie of virtual colleagues (who just get it), several of my real in-person friendships have originated from social media too. From coffee buddies and confidantes, to ones who even see fit to ask you to their wedding. And I’m grateful for every one of those positive influences in my life.

That’s not to say I haven’t felt the wrath of social media too. I’ve been held single-handedly responsible for global warming (let’s just ignore the contribution my children will make to the impending pension crisis and the challenges around replacement rates, eh?).

I’ve had a man pose as a mother to gain my trust, even asking weaning advice to convince me of his sincerity, only to later send a picture of his genitals to my DMs. And, following a post on social media where I suggested that those seeking vaccine advice do so from reliable, trustworthy and accredited sources, I was told I only think what The Irish Times allows me to think. It was a shocking revelation. Had I realised mind control was part of the terms and conditions of engagement I would most certainly have requested a higher fee.

Those are the days you wonder why you stay on these platforms at all. And then I remember, many of my tribe hang out there, just like they did through those lonely days of lockdown.

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