The four of us are sat in a seaside café. Feeling proud of ourselves because we eschewed the warmth of home and comfort of technology for instead a brisk walk on the beach with a dog. Sitting chatting, we look to our left – a mother and daughter are sat sharing a pot of warm, English tea, sipping it slowly savouring comfort and laughing about their family – what Carol said on Christmas day, who Pete is dating, what the cat did this morning. No wait, they’re not. Instead they are both staring at their phones, occasionally asking the other to look at something on their screen. The four of us sit there incredulous. Now wait, we don’t. This is a typical scene and therefore doesn’t even get our attention.
Now I am not innocent of any of this, and neither are my friends. As a recent social media shunner, I both love and loathe Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Some days I feel like a junkie who constantly must remind themselves that I am doing well and am 8 months sober. After a summer spent missing my partner who worked the whole time, and having far too much time on my hands (I’m a secondary school teacher), social media became my hobby. I would scroll (or ghost, as it is often dubbed) through Facebook and Instagram (my two main vices – Twitter is too fast-paced and ecstasy-like for me), and I would observe life rather than live it.My envy was overwhelming. Everyone was having a better time, travelling to better places, owning better stuff and looking skinny whilst doing it. And I was at home; fat and poor.
Undoubtedly this contributed to my feelings of depression and anxiety and therefore I decided something had to be done about this. I quit. Cold turkey. At first I felt buoyed – I was suddenly the saintly, holier version of my previous self, purged from sins. Of course, after the initial euphoria, I expected the longing to set in. And it did at times. A friend would say, ‘Oh God, did you see what so-and-so was wearing the other day?’ or ‘did you see so-and-so is pregnant?’ or ‘How cute is so-and-so’s…’ etc. Of course, I could never say yes, I hadn’t seen it and have to have people show me the pictures and patronise me like I’m some sort of great Aunt who doesn’t understand modern life. Undoubtedly, scenarios like this mean I feel the withdrawal. And then you start to wonder what else you’ve missed. Asking inane questions like: what has Lena Dunham uploaded on Instagram lately? I wonder new trainers that girl from my teacher training course has bought recently? What does Zoella’s desk set up look like again? But then you catch yourself and remember the obsessive and self-destructive nature of your social media addiction and move on from the thought.
I think social media not only deprives us of being social but also depresses us. How can you not compare your life with the constant best bits of someone else’s? After all, no one really shares the boring, mundane details of their life (and if they do, they are sure to be insufferably irritating and photographing their breakfast) nor do they share those days when they feel truly low (and if they do, these are not the posts that we remember). Instead the constant sharing of edited, beautified selfies; the requirement to check in to the fabulous places you’re visiting with your fabulous friends; and the need to prove you’re having fun by showing other people what you’re doing, leads to insecurities in both the person posting and the person observing. We are all mini-celebrities and mini-voyeurs and that is unhealthy for me.
As a teacher, I see the hazards teenagers must avoid everyday. Friends posting snidey comments, boys snapchatting pictures of themselves with someone other than their girlfriends, observing your mates all checked in to somewhere together – without you. They have to deal with the complexities of teenage emotions and living their life in the public eye. Maintain poise and friendships whilst also being fun and flirty. Social media creates anxiety in my students – they are constantly glued to their phones, seeking validation for their lives and looks and worrying about what they’re missing out on. They will not give it up; they were breast fed by Facebook and sung Instagram lullabies but it runs their lives and this worries me.
As for the twenty-somethings, I am increasingly aware that others in my age bracket are beginning to feel the vicious cycle of social media: boredom leads to scrolling leads to boredom. At a basic level, this is what social media is guilty of: depriving ordinary people of ordinary pleasures and replacing them with a phone face, constantly looking down at a screen not at the world around them. On a deeper level, and in my case, it can be the cause of deep-rooted envy and unhappiness.
Therefore I sit here and blog, hoping that like a recently converted vegetarian I am not preaching nor being judgemental, hoping for a readership (despite what my information might say!) and validation for my views which shows that I am not quite rid of the meaty social media craving. However, I would now much rather share something deeper and more truthful. I don’t want to sell a falsely happy and social version of me because, despite being surrounded by people, I’ll still be alone, staring at my phone.
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