When I was a student and used to go to the Edinburgh Festival every summer, there was generally a point halfway through when I knew, with absolute certainty, that everyone else in the city had tickets to much better shows than I did – the ones that would win awards but were now sold out. They were going to cooler parties than I’d been invited to, were having the unforgettable “Edinburgh experience” I craved, while somehow I was trailing behind, too late to join in.I thought I’d grown up and out of that particular anxiety, but I’m starting to get the same feeling about being in London this summer. Partly this is due to the fact that there’s so damn much going on - most of it within walking distance of my front door. How can anyone do it all? How can you even know what’s out there so you can choose the best bits?
But also (I’m rationalising this to myself to find an excuse for being so immature) it’s because every experience I could be having this summer is instantly available to me on my phone.
Via Twitter and Facebook I can see pictures of all the events, hear the music, watch the video and share the reactions of all the people who are out there doing the stuff that I’m not.
This is not making me feel as though I am sharing the experience. It’s not multiplying the pleasure. It’s just making me feel uneasy about what I’m missing. The duty to have an “extraordinary day”, to make the most of this “once in a lifetime opportunity” – and make sure my children have an unforgettable summer too – is becoming another chore to fit in along with de-fleaing the cats.
There is a recognised body of academic research into the paradox that having more choice tends to make people more dissatisfied with their lot. And there’s a growing number of studies about social media anxiety (this one by Anxiety UK) – though they’re usually focused on the anxiety people feel when cut off from social media, rather than as a result of using it.
For the record I don’t think I have an anxiety disorder, I think I’m just a ludicrously over-competitive person who really needs to calm down a bit. But as an experiment I’m going to give up on Twitter and Facebook for the duration of the Olympics (or maybe we’ll see how it goes after the opening weekend…) I managed to resist temptation during last night’s magnificent opening ceremony with nary a twinge. Let’s see if it makes me a more contented Londoner.