*** Note from the editor: this is an edited article written by David Bone for his blog The Out of Touch Unionist***
I have never quite grasped the intricacies of social media and I have never quite seen the point of it. I consider myself to be part of a ‘bridge generation’, or a combination of a Gen-Xer and millennial; a ‘Xennial’ if you will. I was in my early to mid-20s when today’s social media platforms rolled out. I spent my teenage years and early 20s without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Periscope or any other oddly named platform. The first social media sites I remember and that I was an early adopter of were Faceparty and Bebo. These were both quickly superseded by the behemoth that was to become Facebook. 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. 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 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 turned me off from 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. These strangers 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 may not agree but I do not see how taking a picture of this and posting it on social media helps anyone. Least of all those we love, who more often than not, look like the inactive participant in a soap opera being inadvertently created around them.
On the other side is the individual who injure 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 yourself is it to reach for your phone, my advice would be to seek medical help, although not for your physical injury. Have you ever considered cognitive behavioural therapy?
Modesty and humility are also two terms that one will not find on social media. I have seen people boasting that they have received a ‘100%’ in their exam, have ‘aced’ a particular test that they were sitting at university that day, or are just a superb specimen of humanity which we should be grateful to share the planet with.
Outside of boasting about achievements, of course social media can also be a celebration of the mundane. A weekend night out can generate hundreds of pictures that look remarkably similar to the nights out that you have experienced before. We have all seen pictures of someone’s meal on social media being proudly shared with the world, for reasons that I cannot quite fathom. A colleague from a previous job once informed me that they had three thousand images of their child on their phone, with further images stored 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 and worrying issue for society is that social media is now the primary news source for many people. Otherwise intelligent people do not 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 reinforce their worldview, largely without challenge. This explains how anti-immigration and borderline racist memes about people taking jobs or squandering 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 is always easier to blame another group of people for an issue rather than engage your own critical faculties. After all your view has 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 during Bonfire Night in the UK. 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. The poor animal ran away from a firework and onto a road where it was 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 having to ask total strangers 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 does not require active participation on my part or does not require me to ‘follow’ or ‘like’ something or constantly bombard me with information, updates or posts from other users.
It is entirely possible that I’m wrong and social media is a transformative experience that I ‘am missing out on and I could be making my life exponentially worse on a daily basis by not engaging with it. 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 am 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.
–Featured image– social media | Paul Inkles : flickr
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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