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The Internet Personified: Travelling Without Instagram
PLUS: Exclusive never-seen-before photos of my trip to Warsaw!
My lovely children of summer,
(Gmail miiiiight eat half this post because of my lovely photos so click on the title to read comfortably in your browser.)
There’s this great German phrase my friend Johanna taught me recently. It’s actually a toast when you’re drinking together, which makes perfect sense, because they do enjoy drinking in this part of the world. It goes: “We will not be so young together again.” (So jung kommen wir nicht mehr zussamen for my fellow Deutsch learners.)
We were in Warsaw, at a lovely little wine bar on our final night there, when she taught me this. I was pleasantly melancholy from the wine and the idea of the end of a trip that seemed to finish so much faster than the months we had spent planning it. Later, before I went to bed, I looked it up, technically, technically I guess a drinker could use it to spur on another: “oh go on, have another, we’re not going to be this young again!” But it made me feel the way singing “Auld lang syne” on New Year’s Eve does (yes, I know no one actually does this apart from people on old British period dramas, but before I go out on NYE, say around 6 pm, I start warbling a little, “andddd neverrrrr broughtttt to miiiind” like I’m doing an Adele cover. It drives K mad.) a little bit like you’re going to cry, because life used to be endless, endless, you know? And now here we are, forty one, and we have to watch our knees if we step off a stool too suddenly.
Forgive my morbid mood, it’s the cold and the snow and the dark grey skies outside. I really was going somewhere cheerful with this, I promise, but I keep getting tangled up in March in Germany which is nothing like March in Delhi. This March is awful! This March matches, in fact, my board exam mood that I get into at the beginning of every March since I was in high school. But in Northern Europe, spirits are starting to lift. Smiles on faces. There’s a tree to the left of me which I just notice this morning is covered with a delicate dark green moss on the upper branches which wasn’t there last month. In the tree in front of our dining room, two crows are constructing a large and messy nest, today they returned with more twigs and shook the snow off their new home with philosophical resignation. At 6 pm, the sky is a dark blue instead of pitch black. And when the sun comes out as it does, every now and then, it’s actually warm instead of just bright. The biggest sign in our very urban neighbourhood is that the douchebags who use the silent electric scooters on sidewalks, nearly mowing you down if you’re not careful, have started up again. Spring!
What happened is, last week, I decided to just not go on any of my social networks (Twitter, Instagram and to a smaller extent, Facebook) for a day. No particular reason, I was just feeling sort of crowded, too many voices in my head, too many opinions to keep track of. I realised I thumbed my phone like a worry bead, switching between windows in a cycle: Instagram-Twitter-Facebook-Instagram. Every few seconds, pulling down the tray to refresh. Who had something new to say? Who was outraging about something I needed to feel a prickle of indignation/schadenfreude/just here for the comments about? So I took my break, and then the next morning, I continued my break and so on and so forth until I was solidly “digital detoxing” for whatever that’s worth. I fully intended to be back on my socials for Warsaw, but it just felt so nice to be offline, I can’t explain it, it’s like suddenly there’s a whole chunk of mental space. It’s like one of those dreams where you realise that beneath your house there’s a whole smaller house which is yours but you never noticed it before.
I didn’t do anything to force myself. I checked if I had any messages on my socials once a day, but I didn’t feel the need to look at photos or stories or tweets. It all fell into place quite naturally, like I was this non-social-media person this whole time and I just needed to release that inner self. I messaged some friends who interact with me a lot online and told them about it, but for the most part I realised that no one really noticed. For all the extremely online shit I was doing every day from the moment I opened my eyes, I could stay off it for days on end and no one was coming looking for me. It was freeing. I miss my friends and their brief 24-hour updates, that was nice, knowing what everyone was up to all the time, feeling like I had a window into their days no matter where we were, but so much of social media has become a short cut to reaching a whole lot of people at once. Which: terrific! But this means that everyone assumes everyone else has responded to your story with your big news, and so no one does (lonesome), sometimes your besties don’t even see your major updates which you don’t know and then you feel sad they haven’t responded (double lonesome plus resentment) or the thing that one person will find specifically funny but is reaching 2000 people gets diluted because you’re not messaging them one on one. (Friends, please send me photos and updates, no matter how small! I want to see every kitty, every dog, every child, and every you dressed up for a night on the town. THANKS.)
And: cue the Warsaw trip. Johanna and I had been planning this for a while, she had a mid-week break in March because of Women’s Day and so suggested we go somewhere accessible by train. Neither of us had been to Poland before, and Warsaw seemed exciting and also with enough fun things to do indoors, which we needed because of the aforementioned wind and snow. (Gdansk was on my list but it’s a beach town and your good time is directly related to your walking around Old Town by the shore.)
I haven’t travelled without uploading photos to Instagram for years now. My usual practice is to take a bunch, edit and filter them and then post them on the ‘gram the next morning as a sort of travel diary. That’s not including the several photos I post on stories either. I construct a travel narrative as I’m doing it, a story I’m telling myself along with the people that follow me. The story is often tediously the same: here I am living my glamorous/adventurous life in a foreign city, look at what a great time I’m having! The thing is, often you do have an extra good time because you look at it from the outside, you’re the actor but you’re also the audience. And sometimes you have a shit time but you’re pretending to have a good time so you’re confused about why you’re having a shit time because surely every evidence points to immense fun wish you were here?
So when I stopped taking photos for my Facebook and my Instagram, I sort of stopped taking photos. This person once told me ages ago at a wedding, “Sometimes you don’t have to have a good time, sometimes you just have a time and that’s okay.” Johanna and I had great fun doing all the things we enjoy doing: museums and cute little cafes and bars and second hand clothes shopping and just sitting and reading in our pretty Airbnb. But also we froze on the long walks to and from places, the public transport system is kind of weird in Warsaw, not that many connections and not even the same ticket for the tram and the metro (that we could figure out), and it snowed most days we were there, and I found Polish food very dull and this made me sad in a way only a meal that doesn’t live up to my expectations can. (I soon switched to non-Polish and all was good in the world again.) Those spots were our “time.” If I’d been chronicling our journey online, perhaps I would’ve felt the need to make the cucumber soup look delicious or the snow magical in a Lorelei Gilmore sort of way. (Snow is so pretty when you are in your apartment and you have no need to leave your house for the next 24 hours.)
But I’m sad I didn’t take more pictures. I thought I enjoyed photography, but maybe all I enjoy is the sharing of photographs. Getting a particularly nice one to show everyone what exactly it looked like while I was away.
I’m going to have to go back on social media next month because my book is out and I have to promote it and be cool, but honestly, I’m not sure how much difference promoting your own books online does. I run a small books account on Instagram (which I might keep doing because I only follow book accounts on it and it’s nice to have a record of your reading) and I know many people buy the books I recommend. But I think it’s because I’m a disinterested third party. I follow authors online and I don’t necessarily buy their books because they post fifty times about it. I don’t know if more people would be inclined to buy my book because I post fifty times about it. So it’s hard to say if social media even is that important despite what everyone tells you. (However, for sharing links like this newsletter, it is, and since I’m staying off Twitter this month, would you just be amazing and do it for me? THANK YOU I LOVE YOU.)
No, but I’ve really liked whatever little of Eastern Europe I’ve seen (and it’s always been SO COLD when I’ve visited so you can imagine these are pretty amazing cities despite the bad weather: Prague, Budapest, Warsaw.) They seem somehow unexplored—but only in relation to say, France or Italy or Germany. I knew very little about Polish history when I visited and now I know so much more. They feel somehow more accessible because they are slightly cheaper than most Western European countries and yet, more foreign because of the languages. You should go. And you should send me a series of messages about it and we can talk about our shared experiences.
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The latest in the Thursday Murder Club books: The Bullet That Missed. Look, I got back into these books after taking the second one out of the library and then going back and re-reading the first one, but they’re very… schlocky. Manipulative, I’d say. Charming as fuck, no doubt, but self consciously charming.
My neighbour said she wasn’t ever going to read the box set Game of Thrones she’d bought herself and did I want them and I realised I did feel like re-reading them all from the beginning and we have a new bookshelf, so everything worked out in that regard.
What I Bought That I Love:
Two second hand things I just wanted to show off somewhere:
Of the two t-shirts and two dresses I bought in Warsaw only one has internet presence, so see how nice.
And a popcorn maker! I’m also trying to give up processed snacks—hard when you love all things fried potato and this popcorn maker has been 100% worth it especially since we also—yup—thrifted it.
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Links I Liked
The trials of an Indian witness. (Guardian)
How did I let drinking take over my life? (Guardian)
The terrifying cult of good taste. (Things Worth Knowing)
How to talk about grief to someone who is seriously grieving. (Atlantic)
Brief interviews with publishers of extremely specific magazines. (The Morning News)
And that’s all I’ve got! Come and talk to me here any tiiiiime.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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