Behind the memes

By writing this article, I run the risk of narrating the Three advert, and I can’t promise it’s any more thought-provoking than Henry VIII on Tinder.

Social media has found itself with a bad name. It’s become utterly unavoidable but even those who were brought up learning to filter a photo to the same precision as their times tables are starting to recognise its imperfections.

But what has social media done to deserve so much stick?

Firstly, in far too many situations, it’s actually anti-social. You didn’t need to go to finishing school to know that the correct way to lay a table is not knife, fork, iPhone. A flash of the screen is quite literally like putting the emergency breaks on your train of thought, or worse, crashing you out of a social situation. We need to stop that. No phones at the table please.

Secondly, it’s eating up our spare time.  Whether we like to believe it or not, we all have a lot of it. We have commutes, cooking time, ad breaks and more. We don’t think it’s spare time because we’re on autopilot – we reach to our pockets, we wait until our fingerprints or faces are recognised and then we scroll and we scroll and we scroll until we hear our bus stop called, the beep of the oven or “Previously on Love Island”. Our spare time is precious, and we have unknowingly reduced the time we spend nurturing our own creativity in a bid to absorb other people’s. Imagine what we could achieve if we switched that around. Perhaps you can paint on par with Frida, write music as moving as Bob Dylan, you’ll never know the potential of your own if spend too long viewing that of others. “I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it” has never been more apt.

Even more concerning is that we’re ferociously becoming a dangerous combination of the most opinionated generation who simultaneously don’t hold any of their own opinions. There are meat eaters who turn vegan overnight (guilty) and culture vultures suddenly voting Brexit (not-guilty). One poignant article can be as atomic as the issue it’s debating if it stamps an opinion onto someone rather than equipping them to build their own. We need to search, explore, review and finally subscribe in that order. Everyone’s opinion is valid, no one’s opinion is gospel and we mustn’t fall victim of social propaganda.

The other argument around comparison isn’t a new one, nor is it outdated. Social media is allowing us to inherently compare everything we view online to the same thread in our own lives. We’re not skinny enough, well-traveled enough, in love enough and we’re not invited to as many parties. We’re filling our brains with the product of so many people’s lives, yet we have never felt more lonely. We tell ourselves this very thing every time we open the apps but we don’t ever listen. 99% of the time social media is the very best of someone’s life, the cream of the crop, the only photo where the lighting was good. It’s augmented reality and often it’s actually just plain false. All you need to do to remind yourself of this is to look back through your own timelines. It’s narcissism in it’s healthiest form. It’s a reminder that we too have a life worth envying.

Finally, I’m not an expert and I will never pledge to offer the argument justice or credibility, but social media can have negative effects on our mental health. It’s an issue which has rightfully and patiently risen to the top of the health agenda and social media plays an enormous part of the movement. Whether it’s the content we view, post or engage with, being mindful of the what, the how and the impact on yourself and others is something we all need to work on.

But while all the above rings relevant and true, I wanted to stick up for social media against some of the negative press.

Social media gives you the keys to indulge in something you care about. When you opt in, you can absorb an enormous amount of information in such an immediate, efficient and enjoyable way. Meat-free Monday inspiration, 15-minute abs blasts and Halloween face painting has never been so easily discovered. Social media’s immediacy and relevance is second to none.

And if you’re not freaked out by it, it even opens your eyes to stuff you don’t know you care about yet. The internet is wiser than you and your phone listens. Yes it is absolutely an invasion of our privacy and reminds us we should be reading Ts and Cs at software updates, but it’s actually pretty incredible. All of a sudden we’re interested in things we didn’t realise we were. They say that all the best inventions are those that solve a problem you didn’t know existed (don’t say you ever complained about hailing a black cab). And with social media, using data and algorithms, it has the capacity to open our eyes to inspirational people, interesting places, new ideas we haven’t yet come across and clothes. It shows us lots of nice clothes.

It helps you stay in touch, and I’m not even including WhatsApp in the argument. If you’re still sitting at 1300 Facebook friends, you need to do the birthday cull (if you know, you know), and what you’ll be left with is a handful of friends who’s lives you’re able to stay up to speed with. What I am absolutely not saying is that social media replaces the physical interactions you have with loved ones, but it keeps the window open on those who’s paths are difficult to cross. We have horrendously busy lives. We are under pressure from every single corner to work harder, exercise longer, cook better, and extra-curricular the shit out of our CVs, and that sometimes means physical meet ups sadly get kicked down the priority list.  But this doesn’t mean we can’t be drip-fed nuggets of people’s lives in the form of painted toenails against a coastline backdrop or blurry 6 month scans. Social media is the omnibus, and we’ve all got it on in the background, biding time until we’re cast in our own indulgent episode of brunch.

Finally, think of all the businesses that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for social media. People have been able to make a true living out of it and it’s paved the way for people to set up brands with the knowledge that they have access to such an inexpensive yet revolutionary way of marketing their product. This has given people the chance to run the ship they’ve always dreamt of and it’s created healthy competition away from the big boys that we all know is for our own good. Hashtags are cheaper than TV ads and if the audience are going to be sitting on their phone anyway…

So really, we need to stop blaming social media when the problem actually lies with us. Social media isn’t ruining your life, and it definitely shouldn’t be taking over it. Instead of temporarily liberating ourselves through 24-hour cleanses or by frantically deleting the apps altogether, we should start to see the beauty and adapt our use for good. Do you purely want to stay updated with friends and family? Then do just that. A hug and a bottle of wine over dinner will always come out on top, but for the day-in-day-out when times are busy, a pattern of emojis might cut it. Are you an amateur chef or restaurant enthusiast like me? Then unfollow all the fit-spo, Made in Chelsea, people-you-matched-with-on-hinge noise and just follow Tania Ballantine if you have to. I’ve made these changes and social media has enriched my life if not at least made it considerably more gluttonous and I’d encourage everyone to do the same. If you’re going to subconsciously end up deep in the social media rabbit hole, it may as well be amongst something you’re passionate about.

The crux of the perceived problem with social media is that we’re just not using it right. We’ve spent years building it and now we’re wasting our time with things that bore us, frustrate us or sadly have the capacity to bring us down. Like most things, it can be addictive, and also like most things, the solution is in our own capable hands.

It’s not revolutionary advice and it shouldn’t be tricky to follow.

It’s dangerous, and can be the most toxic gimmick. But equally social media can be the most eye-opening, enriching and for lack of a better word, social instrument you will ever have, literally at your fingertips. Get behind the memes, use it for good, absorb it, but never ever let it absorb you.

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