Anna Dusseau | 6th March 2020
Social media is toxic. You don’t need the likes of Stormzy and Billie Eilish to tell you that. Although it certainly helps when high-profile public figures turn their backs on social media – providing a powerful message to young and not-so-young that it is a hateful and unhealthy place to be – what always surprises me, is the fact that these people were apparently addicted in the first place. I mean why, when you are on board a luxury yacht sipping champagne from the belly button of a supermodel, would you think that this might be a good time for a photo? I guess I don’t understand it because I’ve never done it. And yes, I’m aware that this sounds incredible in today’s world, but it’s perfectly true. I just don’t care and nothing, from food porn to Friends cast reunions, can make me budge on this. Let me tell you why.
It’s so boring. I don’t want to be on social media myself. People have tried to persuade me that you can’t run a business/function as a homeschooling family/have a life/know who you are without a social media account, but I guess stubborn must be my middle name. That doesn’t stop me from checking out what’s happening on social media platforms though, does it? Well, actually, it sort of does. In 2017, Beyonce’s bizarrely veiled and garlanded baby bump gained 11.2 million likes almost overnight. I mean, who are these people? Because the world went nuts and suddenly, it was everywhere – including the newspaper and TV news channels – so if you didn’t feel like seeing Bey in her knickers before you’d even had your morning coffee – BAM! – there it was. Straight in the eyeball. And what’s the fuss? Surely we all know what a pregnant belly looks like, so why do we swarm to our screens like locusts when a celebrity decides to cover theirs in ketchup? Wait, I think I know what you’re going to say. It’s artistic, right? Possibly. But here’s the thing. My mum goes swimming regularly at the local pool and she complains that once a week there’s this funny guy who leaves all his clothes out on the bench with – wait for it – his underpants on top. And I figure we are talking sweaty Y-fronts here, people, not a David Gandy boxer short campaign. Is Kim Kardashian ‘breaking the internet’ by stripping down and oiling-up actually any different? It’s all a bit boring and, if we’re being honest, more than a bit unsavory. Don’t air your dirty laundry in public, as my grandmother would have said. And Kim, put your fanny away, for fuck’s sake. Perhaps pool guy could do with an Insta account, after all.
You stop using your brain. I had this friend in London who was always on her phone. We used to walk along with our double buggies, sipping chai latte and comparing sleepless nights and, while I would pull faces at her freckly baby and my hairy baby (don’t worry, new mamas, they turn out okay in the end), she would be swiping through her phone, updating me on the latest trending tragedy. Now, please don’t get me wrong here. A child dying from leukemia is always desperately sad and unfair. But the world is a very big place and terrible things are happening almost constantly. Wait, did you know that? My friend didn’t. ‘Oh my goodness!’ she would burst out, halfway through a park stroll with one of the toddlers kicking off and – minus the rotating head – delivering a superb audition for the role of Regan in a remake of The Exorcist. ‘Would you look at this? There’s a new rash that you have to look out for because over 200 mums on Facebook are saying that their child started vomiting and went floppy after 2 hours.’ Right. This sounds awful, but remind me why we are discussing it? I am 100% confident that if my child developed a rash, vomited and went floppy, I would be doing a handbrake turn into the A&E car park so really, can we drop it and just enjoy the sight of your 2 year old conducting a dirty protest by smearing banana into the lining of her buggy?
Social media eclipses all former communication. So – get this – everyone told me that homeschooling wasn’t possible without social media and you know what? They were totally right. Because somewhere around 2012, when the world of social media really accelerated and became the accepted ‘norm’, it seems like people stopped updating their websites, or adding information regarding events, contact details and so forth. What I got a lot of was ‘find us on Facebook’. Seriously. Even the Queen’s doing it, with her first official Instagram photo last year gaining 280k likes. Omg, Liz, what happened? But look, joking aside, it might be a bit inconvenient looking things up online now that the likes of Facebook and Linked In have the monopoly on our information, but more worryingly, this social trend has adjusted our entire way of interacting as a species. Since when did it become borderline psychotic for someone other than your mum to call your phone to talk? Because that’s definitely the territory we are into now and we only have ourselves to blame. The glittering world of Instagram and Facebook creates an illusion that, like flies drawn to the light, we are only ever expected to bump our noses against, not actually interact with. It is an identity which demands at once: ‘adore me and stay away from me.’ Has everyone lost the plot? Surely we would all be better off without the funfair filter, actually talking to the people in our lives, rather than pushing them away in a vain attempt to micromanage our own personal brand?
Constant snapping kills the moment. Are you the person who takes 15 identical shots and posts them all on Facebook? If so, it might be worth questioning who you are taking these photos for. Camera phones are so good now that fingers are constantly fidgeting in back pockets, new mums keep asking their babies to pause the moment and do it again, and grandparents will sit on park benches with their grandchildren, watching live action replays again and again and again. In a recent highly persuasive TED talk, Erin Sullivan asked the question ‘Does photographing a moment steal the experience from you?’ The answer was, indisputably, yes. Erin asks us to ‘First: stop. Pause. Take a deep breath. Look around. What do you notice? Are you experiencing this moment with someone else? Remember that this moment only comes once.‘ I wondered, while on holiday in Center Parks last week, how many parents might have listened to Erin’s talk and looking at the sea of faces illuminated by the glare of their phones, I guessed not that many. As a test, I turned my phone off on the first day and, after the initial gut-wrench of no-email-no-news-feed-no-whatsapp armageddon, spent a blissful week with my family and not once was I pestered for photos and updates by friends, family and adoring fans. Because nobody gives a crap. The only time you’re wasting documenting your own life is, with poetic irony, your own.
Before you know it, you’re a screen addict. I think this is the most important issue for me and it’s all about attention span. Even back in 2017, journalists were commenting on the smartphone’s ability to hijack our attention span, with the average American touching their phone 2,617 times a day (Dscout survey) and 40 percent of consumers admitting that they look at their device within five minutes of waking up (Deloitte, 2016). What I suspect is that, when large amounts of time are devoted to swiping through social media profiles and comments, there is the same lull and feeling of inertia when that world pauses, as an ex-smoker might feel when not knowing what to do with their hands at a party. Needs must. And I suppose this is how you end up with grown adults playing candy crush on the tube while on their way to fairly responsible jobs. Much as I would like to qualify this as some sort of breakdown or cry for help, I think that the odd one out here is actually me. Indeed, if I allow myself to ponder the murky waters of British politics for too long these days, I can’t help but wonder whether even the Tories have lost control of their candy crush to sensible policies ratio.
I will concede that my position is rather extreme, given that I am on any given day at least 25% likely to switch my phone off and declare that I will henceforth only be available only via a first class stamp. I don’t expect everyone to adopt this viewpoint or tolerate my love/hate phone nonsense. Moreover, I am aware that social media can be used as a powerful force of good, in cases such as the Amnesty International Unsubscribe campaign (uniting people online in opposition to terrorism and human rights abuse) and the ‘double tap to plant a tree’ campaign by Tentree which gained 15.7 million likes and resulted in more than 500,000 trees planted in Indonesia. It’s a double-edged sword, for sure, and I am not realistically advocating shunning the entire system and ending up having to bother your friends with late-night text messages (as I do) to find out what’s going on. A healthy approach might be to maintain your social media profiles, but delete the apps from your phone, so that you can enjoy your daily life free from frantic thumb-twitching, but still set aside half an hour at the end of the day to connect to the wider world and, hopefully, use your social media presence for a positive purpose. But for me, like our current 007, I’ll keep myself to myself and wait for that letter to arrive.
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