Creating boundaries in an online world

This blog post has been a long time coming if I’m honest. And yes, I do realise there were at least four posts that I said would be ‘coming soon’ that haven’t yet been written. I’ve been trying to find the right words and experiences to talk about without them sounding repetitive. So, I promise, more posts coming soon!

So, what I really want to talk about is the need for, and lack of, boundaries in today’s online worlds. Although we need them in a physical society too, for many reasons, I’m not going to focus on that much here.

As we know, the pandemic has changed so many things for many of us around the world. Whilst I’ve always been fairly active online, in one way or another, with blogs, emails, social media, trawling through pointless new stories and so on, I have been focusing on being more productive with the time I spend online in the last couple of months.

Now, some of you may remember me ‘way back when’ I used to tweet, post and message about pretty much anything and everything. Clicking that ‘memories’ button on Facebook is more cringe-worthy than reading high-school diaries and I’ve really made an effort to stop posting about everything in my life.

Thank god! But why?

I think it’s because as soon as lockdown came into effect I was spending 10-15 hours a day on the computer due to teaching, writing, preparing lessons and also checking the news a fair bit. Now, I try to use my computer for work and blogging online, and leave social media on the phone with some restrictions. It doesn’t always work, but I try.

In order to attempt to control my internet usage, I’ve made some changes and I’ve started with the following:

  • No notifications from 9pm to 6am (and yes, alright, that doesn’t always stop me checking them!)
  • Options such as mute, unfollow and block that allow me more control over what I see, who I receive notifications from and so on.
  • Deleting apps for a day / week / month, because I’ve found that sometimes a longer period away really helps. I can’t simple tell myself not to open the app.

    If I can see it, I’ll check it.
  • Toughening up! Okay so this isn’t directly social media related but it is still important. If you’re going to be online in this day and age you need to expect to see and hear things you don’t like. That doesn’t mean you have to accept any of them, but you have to try and prepare yourself for it and think about how you will address these situations.

    People will always have a different opinion, have more money or bigger houses, a prettier face, a louder voice (for better or worse). And you have to remember that many people are posting about their ‘perfect’ lives but not showing the negatives.

I think that for our mental health, our productivity and possibly even our own level of intelligence it is important to set boundaries online. These boundaries can take shape in many different ways, depending on who you are and what you use the internet for.

For example, if you use social media as a platform for discussing your mental health then it may be perfectly acceptable for someone to message you about their own health problems and ask you for advice. However, if you’re using it to post about your business then you may not want to be discussing personal issues. In the latter situation, you may feel the need to set boundaries with people contacting you.

A simple phrase such as, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable discussing personal issues with people on my private page. I do hope you have a family member or friend to confide in.” should be short and sweet enough to make your point. You can re-word that phrase so that it’s suitable for the situation, but hopefully that gives you an idea.

There may also be times where you mentally do not have the ‘space’ to talk about certain things or reply to certain messages. Again, a quick message to explain that you’re having a bad day, or don’t feel up to chatting at the moment should be enough. If it’s not, you’re connecting with the wrong people.

Speaking of ‘connecting with the wrong people‘, this is very easily done on the internet. At first, some people may seem nice, interesting and even supportive of you. but if this changes then perhaps they’re not the people you need in your life – virtually or otherwise. And there is no shame in disconnecting from certain people. If they do not bring a positive ‘vibe’ into your online world, why are you connecting with them?

It is also possible that someone is absolutely not doing any harm to you, or others, but they don’t quite ‘sit right’ with you. That’s okay too. In the real world, we don’t get on with everyone and this is certainly true for the internet. Some people post too much, some people don’t post at all, others rarely post but constantly message you and some people never want to chat. It’s similar to life. Some share, others don’t. You will not ‘click’ with everyone you follow and that is okay.

So, why now? I’ve bitten the bullet and decided to write this because I have been receiving a silly number of messages on my plant Instagram lately. Giveaways? Free plants? Grow lights?

Naaaah… sadly not! These messages have mainly been people asking me to identify their plants or for plant care.

“Hey, how do I look after this plant?”

“Why is my plant dying??” *sends 5 pictures*

“Hi, so you have a lot of plants. Can you help me look after mine?”

“Do you have a magic trick to grow this plant?”

And, well, many others just like this.

Honestly? Buy the books. Do your research. Watch the videos. That’s exactly how I learnt, along with help from my mum and my granddad. We all need a little personalised help sometimes, and that’s fine, but I don’t appreciate random strangers asking me for help before they’ve even bothered to say hello, or people blowing up my phone asking for advice every single day.

It isn’t fair, especially when 90% of what they’re asking could be found by using Google, watching a video or two or reading a plant care book.

So, moral of the story is set some boundaries.

I have had to put a story up telling people that if they ask me about plant care, I will not be replying.

Behaviour like this can become stressful very quickly, and when I work 6 days a week I really do not need to be spending my free time playing ‘plant mother’ to other people. It also churns up negative feelings towards my plants, which are a huge hobby of mine and something I have spent a lot of time and energy on. I do not need to feel negative about a hobby because of other people. I had enough of that at school so many moons ago.

So please, think before you speak. Or type. And if you’re in a position similar to mine then you should definitely consider setting boundaries for yourself and others who may interact with you. If you’re not sure where to start then here are a few ideas:

  • Have set times when you do not reply to messages (5-7pm or after 10pm, for example).
  • Decide that certain topics are not up for discussion via your social media pages (that could be politics, racism, mental health or plant care – the choice is yours!)
  • Set limits on who can see your posts and interact with you, if that will make you feel more comfortable.

I hope you’ve found this post somewhat useful, although I realise it is far more ‘rambling’ than my most recent words. I feel as though this is something that needed to be aired.

If you have any ideas or experiences you’d like to share with me then feel free to leave a comment! x

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