In a society that is obsessed with likes and follows, stalking their exes and old school friends, and letting the world know how #blessed we are, it begs the question: are we all social media addicts?
I am forever in two minds about social media and my relationship with it. On the one hand, I’m all Instagram should be taken with a pinch of salt because only the highlights of someone’s day is shown online. But I’m also concerned we’re still very much obsessed with peering through the window into other people’s lives, whether we’re aware it’s the whole story or not.
Just the other day, in a bid to stop scrolling through Twitter, I listened to The High Low podcast titled On Brett Kavanaugh; & Why Women Can’t (And Don’t Want To) Have It All. Now, the title doesn’t really fit with what I’m talking about here, but during the podcast, they discussed the levels of addiction that we have with social media.
We have the obsession with watching people’s lives and becoming engrossed with what strangers are up to, and also the comparison issue. As much as I can say ‘I don’t really care what people are doing’, I still find myself endlessly flicking through their pictures, reading their tweets and watching their stories. And this comes hand in hand with: Why don’t I have that? Why don’t I have abs like hers? Why don’t I have a boyfriend who picks me up from work and takes me out for a meal? Why don’t I own my own house yet? Why didn’t I go to that gig?
Of course, there are upsides to social media. It’s a creative outlet and a realm where you can put your memories in one place. Like an online scrapbook of drunken nights out where you’ve videoed you and your best friend awfully singing along to Beyoncé. I do love seeing pictures of people enjoying themselves and watching my friends have fun on Instagram stories. But I can’t help but wonder if they’re having that much fun if they’re on their phones. I’ll hold my hands up and admit I am guilty of this too. And, to contradict what I’ve just said slightly, I have been having fun and just wanted to document it. However, I’m also very mindful that I’ve had even better times with my friends and family, and the thought of getting my phone out hasn’t even crossed my mind. I can look back at my highlights on Instagram and think yes, that was such a fun night out with the girls, but it did take us seven attempts to get this boomerang of us clinking our Prosecco.
Furthermore, it makes me think – who am I posting for?
I like to convince myself that I post things that I enjoy, that I like and that I want to remember. But if this was the case, I wouldn’t be bothered about how many likes my picture has. I do wish I didn’t care whether a photo of me and my puppy got one like or 100 likes, but the reality is, I do care. For some self centred and egotistical reason, I feel better about myself when a picture of me has been well received. Whether this is because I wasn’t necessarily the prettiest or most desired girl when I was in high school and now I’m enjoying the validation, or whether it’s simply because I’m incredibly self involved – I don’t know. But isn’t that just a little bit sad?
Back to the podcast, they mentioned that they had put themselves on a social media ban. At first, I thought how the hell did she not check Instagram for a whole month? And then the idea of it kind of felt quite refreshing. Imagine if I could go even a week without wasting my time scrolling through people’s lives and letting people know when I’m having a coffee?* Before Instagram came around, I was obsessed with Twitter. Before Twitter, it was Facebook. Before Facebook, it was Bebo and MySpace. And before then it was Piczo. And weaved in between these was Tumblr which took up a lot of my time when I was 18 and 19. I’ve spent almost half of my life online, and while there are aspects I love about social media, I think it is more damaging than helpful. For me, anyway.
I’ve always loved the internet and sharing pictures and thoughts online. Maybe because, when I was very younger, I didn’t have much of a voice – so the idea that I could have opinions and interests, in a quieter way, was very desirable to me. However, obviously social media has become larger and more influential than expected. So it’s become even more accessible and we depend on it so much more for our entertainment. While I was obsessed with Bebo when I was fourteen, I could only access it on my computer. So when I was out with friends or family, my attention was on them and I was much more present. My Blackberry Bold was also pay-as-you-go and there wasn’t a chance in hell I was wasting my £10 credit on the internet. This also meant that I did more with my free time. Between the ages of 14 and 18, I would read a whole lot more than I do now. I was constantly learning, and not just because I was in education. I was reading books for pleasure and expanding my knowledge. I’d have actual conversations with people – me and my friends would have hour long phone calls talking about anything and everything. I am very lucky, however, that when I’m with my close friends, we are still very present. But the urge and ease to just pick up our phones and browse while we’re having a conversation IRL is too real.
There have been excellent uses of social media lately – with the #MeToo movement, starting conversations that we, as a society, need to be having whether it be politics, mental health or otherwise. And I love social media for that. I love that I have become more knowledgeable about topics that weren’t taught in school or never came up in my environment. I love social media on awareness days where people share their stories to help others, and also share their words of encouragement and support. It’s times like that where I feel social media can be such a positive safe space. Of course, there are the absolute pests of the world who love to bring people down and troll. But that shows their insecurities and lack of social awareness more than anything.
As mentioned, social media is an addiction. And makes me think – should we be teaching and encouraging the safe usage of social media to young people? Of course, there are age restrictions when signing up to platforms, however we all know a kid who has Facebook and lied about their age to get it. The argument could be that this is at the parents discretion, and it is them who decided whether their child can sell their social life to the internet. However, if we agree that social media is damaging to people’s mental health and well-being, could it be worth a warning lesson on the dangers of the internet? After all, there are lessons on safe sex, drugs and alcohol – so could we benefit from lessons on using social media safely?
My best friend and I have many discussions about social media and what we have noticed it is doing to us. As mentioned earlier, we strongly believe it is, to put bluntly, jeopardising our intelligence. The time we could be spending reading, having real life conversations, and walking children in nature (that’s what RuPaul would want), we spend looking like zombies on our phones. We tend to get pretty annoyed with ourselves when we realise how much time we’ve spent doing this, but also how we feel lost without it. We are absolutely guilty of thinking we are mad at each other if we haven’t responded to a text within an hour.
While I think it’s healthy that I’ve become more aware that I need to limit my time spent staring at my phone, I think it’s sad that it’s come to this. It’s disappointing that checking up on what strangers are having for brunch is more important than learning, experiencing new things or even just getting tasks ticked off your to-do list.
I’ve taken the liberty of enabling the ‘screen time limit’ on my iPhone. I’m not sure if this is available for Android users but if you have an iOS, I recommend. It basically lets you set a limit to how long you can access certain apps and then disables them when your time is up. Again, how sad that we have to result to this, but nevertheless, it’s benefiting me.