I have never quite grasped the intricacies of social media. I have never quite seen the point of it. Partly, this may be because I consider myself to be part of a “bridge generation”, as I have mentioned in a previous blog post. I was in my early to mid-20s when today’s social media platforms rolled out for public use and consumption. I spent my teenage years and early 20s without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Periscope or any other oddly sounding platform. The first social media sites I remember were Faceparty and Bebo which were both quickly superseded by the behemoth that was to become Facebook. I was even a fairly early adopter of these sites and had a profile on them both. I even had a Facebook page and Twitter account at one point.
The majority of social media platforms never quite caught on with me however. Partly my Facebook friends and my real ones were all of a similar age, generation and outlook, not prone or used to over-sharing every aspect of their lives on the internet. Partly, (believe it or not) I also manage a social media account at work, although not full time. The particular account that I do manage has nearly three thousand “friends” on it and in one of the more positive aspects it does serve as a fairly useful conduit for information and promotion, back and forth between organisations if you can see through the flotsam and jetsam that washes up on the feed.
The constant bombardment with vapid information, the idea that “likes” and comments on a post or picture actually mean something in everyday life, the sharing of utterly mundane information presented as a narrative and all that stems from this such as the rise of narcissism and the pressure to present the “ideal” life are what eventually completely turned me off most social media platforms.
I have witnessed people renovating rooms in their house, day by day, almost hour by hour, until all has been completed to satisfaction and then…not much really, it’s still just a living room. Of course all this is met with rapturous and cheap applause from the comments section from people you hardly know but now have an opinion on your interior decorating skills and choice of wallpaper.
People post pictures of an elderly relative being hospitalised for cancer treatment. Heart rending and deeply sad as this is, I still consider this to be a deeply private affair, not to be shared with the wider world. Many people won’t agree, but I don’t see how taking a picture of this and posting it on social media helps anyone, lest of all your loved one, who more often than not looks like the inactive participant in a soap opera being inadvertently created around them.
The flip side of this is the individual who injures themselves, sometimes moderately, and then takes a picture of said injury to share with the world. To think, this person went through a mental process where they hurt themselves, went to collect their phone, tapped on the camera app, probably flipped to the front camera, opened the particular social media app that would get them the most attention, sorted through the photo library on their phone and hit “post”. They then presumably went to seek medical attention. If your first reaction upon injuring your person it to reach for your phone my advice would be to seek medical help, although not for your physical injury.
Modesty and humility are also two terms that you won’t find on social media either. I have seen people boasting that they have received a “100%” in their exam, have “aced” the particular test that they were sitting at university that day or are just a superb specimen of humanity which, we are lucky to have on the planet with us.
Many people are also fond of posting images of the driving theory pass certificate, something so momentous, rare and worthy of praise that 857,189 certificates were issued in 2014/15 to future competent drivers.
Of course social media can be a celebration of the mundane. A weekend night out can generate hundreds of pictures that look remarkably similar to the night out that you witnessed two weeks ago. We have all seen pictures of someone’s meal on social media being proudly shared with the world, for reasons that I can’t quite fathom. A person I knew informed me that they had three thousand images of their child on their phone and in the “cloud”. The child had just turned three so this worked out , on average, to at least two or three pictures a day. It must have been an eventful three years.
It has been well documented that social media can have significant implications for mental health. At the current rate “fear of missing out” (FOMO) is probably going to be registered in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders along with “nature deficiency syndrome” (i.e. not going outside enough). Increased use of Facebook has been linked to increased incidences of depression due to “social comparison” where you repeatedly compare yourself with your Facebook “friends” and find out that your life doesn’t quite match up to the reality of the sparkling hedonistic existence that they are presenting to the world.
The bigger issue for society is that social media is now the primary news source for many people. Otherwise intelligent people don’t venture outside their social media bubble to the detriment of the rest of society and themselves and only follow “alternative” news sources or posts from other users. It allows them to connect with like-minded associates and further indulge their “confirmation bias” and world view largely without challenge. Hence how anti-immigration and borderline racist memes about people taking jobs or squandering NHS resources have so much cachet with some people and still persistently float about the ether. No one is really questioning the deeper issues at the bottom of this and it’s always easier to blame another group of people for an issue rather than engage your own critical faculties. It’s also been “shared” and liked by a few thousand people so it must be true and it sounds about right as well.
A less serious example of this happens every year where thousands of people go to Facebook claiming a veritable dog massacre happens every year during Fireworks Night. Millions of dogs are found dead in the morning, their grieving owners are found beside them cursing Guido Fawkes while pounding their fists on the ground in supplication. This of course does not happen but according to Facebook it’s a startlingly realistic portrayal of the morning of the 6th of November. According to what I could find there was one dog death in the UK directly related to Bonfire night and the poor animal ran away from a firework and onto a road where it was later hit by a car. In this case Facebook has served as an echo chamber and people have reinforced their own baseless fears by using it.
I ‘am no technological luddite. I would probably be lost without my iPhone now. For an introvert, the ability to use maps to get to a destination and not have to ask a total stranger for directions has proved truly invaluable!! I own a PC, have a games console and think the internet has been a truly wonderful invention that I would struggle to live without now. In general I prefer more passive social media, such as Pinterest or even YouTube, something that doesn’t require active participation on my part or doesn’t require me to “follow” or “like” something or constantly bombard me with information, updates or posts from other users.
It’s entirely possible that I’m wrong and social media is a transformative experience that I ‘am missing out on and I’m making my life exponentially worse on a daily basis by not engaging with it again. Perhaps I need an avid user of social media to sit down with me and explain what social, cultural and emotional benefits they derive from its use. Perhaps, as I move inexorably towards middle age, I’m just getting too old and the perceived benefits no longer outweigh the hassle of staying at the bleeding edge of technology. Perhaps, I have a very boring and mundane life with nothing worth sharing. Who knows?