Emma Gannon: ‘I don’t make arguments on Twitter. I know how they end’
When author, podcaster and journalist Emma Gannon first attempted a “digital detox”, she soon realized that tech wasn’t for her.
I tried and felt like a failure,” she says. “I’m sorry, but I can’t put my phone in a drawer for a week. And in fact, I like being available for my parents, or a friend who might need me.
Yet Gannon, who has spent much of his professional life online and built a huge following and career through the internet, realized something still needed to change.
First, his creative impulses were dulled by an abundance of screen time, making it difficult to get the sequel to his bestselling novel. olive of the ground.
“From early 2020 to late 2021, I barely wrote anything, but I noticed my screen time increased significantly,” she says. “I wasn’t really going out into nature. I had a contract in place to write my second novel and I couldn’t do it. I had no ideas for the first time in my life.
Worse still, Gannon, despite having over 120,000 social media followers, a full and varied social life, and her fiancé (now husband), began to feel oddly lonely.
“I think I read a statistic in women’s health magazine that said 71% of millennials said they were really lonely,” she recalled. “Then I read another statistic that millennials are lonelier than older people who might live alone into old age, and that’s when I thought, ‘Oh my God, what is this happening? Of course, my friends wouldn’t contact me because they thought everything was fine and life looked good on Instagram.
“I felt like I was taken down many paths because of internet validation or an algorithm telling me who I should be, what I should buy or who I should follow,” he adds. she. “It’s crazy, really, when you think about how sucked we got into this. And then when you step back, you kind of think, ‘Actually, who am I apart from all this?’
This prompted Gannon to write his third non-fiction book, Disconnected: how to stay human in an online world. It’s a timely and urgent look at ways to improve our online lives and experiences, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. For anyone who wants to reduce their internet addiction without the intensity of a full-fledged drug rehab, Unplugged is an excellent first stop.
Gannon writes with authority on a number of relatively new phenomena and how to deal with them: influencer fatigue, cancel culture, the online expert’s hamster wheel.
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“I totally agree with something that [author and editor] Jennifer Romolini recently said on Twitter: “I just want everyone to stop pretending – that they know more than they know, have done more than they have, look more younger/thinner/more symmetrical than them. It’s the whole facade that’s exhausting, keeping us from seeing each other, a waste of our precious finite time,” Gannon writes.
With this, she offers practical advice and instruction on how to separate the online self from the “human” self and reconnect with the latter, to make our online interactions with other people more positive and meaningful.
The internet is great for many reasons, Gannon acknowledges: it has enabled many of her professional accomplishments and helped her form friendships with people all over the world. Also, most people need a self-professional element on the web. Yet she is acutely aware of the ease with which life can be subsumed by this and the sheer intensity of these online connections.
As a millennial – the age group spanning people born between the early 1980s and the mid to late 1990s – Gannon grew up with the internet; she was born in the same year as the World Wide Web, 1989. She further details her formative experiences of MySpace, Nokia sexting and MSN chats in her 2016 book Ctrl, Alt; Delete: How I grew up online.
These days, notes Gannon, the Internet is no longer a shiny new toy or novelty, and we need to learn to have a healthy and functional relationship with it.
“When I wrote Ctrl, Alt; To delete, I was still only 25, so I was someone who had rose-colored glasses on the internet,” she says. “It was just a really good time. I say the sign of aging is that you look back and think the past was better than the current world. And here I am, becoming someone who is already rude about TikTok and who misses MySpace.
“I found myself going back to the good old days, but I tried to get noticed about it. I just wanted to sprinkle in some of the learnings from 10 years ago, when people were tweeting each other, but then going to each other. meeting in the pub that night. The internet was being used as a facilitator of interactions in real life, whereas now it feels like life is very much online, and the pandemic certainly hasn’t helped.
Now in her thirties and after years of trial and error, Gannon has carved out what she describes as a positive, nurturing pocket for herself and her like-minded community on the internet. And, after recalibrating her own relationship with technology, she managed to get the first draft of her second novel through.
“I’m interested in making this corner a happy place,” she says.
It’s not an echo chamber. Vigorous debates occur from time to time, but Gannon has no truck with unconstructive social media spats.
Arguments from Twitter
“I mean, you’re just gonna ruin your own day [if you do that],” she says. “I don’t have arguments on Twitter now. I know how they end. Never in the history of the internet has anyone come to a conclusion on Twitter. I mean, how can we, without body language and tone of voice?
“The first thing I did was make a list of things I just wouldn’t do and one of them was not having arguments on Twitter.” Don’t be afraid to take it offline and jump on a Zoom. I actually had a conversation on Twitter with someone and it was getting pretty negative, so we went to Google Hangouts afterwards and talked about it. It was so grown up and mature, and I made a new friend. It could easily have been just a twitter spit where we would have ignored each other forever.
Another milestone was opening a private Instagram account for her friends and family, which operates separately from her more official social media channels. This allowed her to have more meaningful interactions with the important people in her life.
“It’s just things like pictures of my nephews or choosing a paint color for the walls in my house,” she says. “You don’t need to share these things with everyone.”
When asked how she thinks future generations will see and use the online technology available to them, Gannon says she’s curious to see what happens.
“I have a lot of parents who come to see me at events [asking me this] and honestly, I don’t think I should be giving anyone advice,” she laughs. “I think what’s interesting is that the gap is widening between the generations. There are probably all kinds of complex ways to use technology that are probably beyond us right now.
“Maybe a U-turn will happen,” she adds. “Maybe we’re getting to the point where it’s so entrenched in it, that Gen Z actually [the generation after millennials] grow up and they just don’t really bother with the internet. Still, as for the future, I think it’s going to be fascinating. Really, really fascinating.
Emma Gannon’s book ‘Disconnected: How to Stay Human in an Online World’ is now available via Hodder & Stoughton