The last four days have given me a lot of time to think, as I’ve been laid in bed questioning my existence. I’ve been ill, and because I am a man I’ve been ill with the worst illness that’s ever hit humankind.
I’ve been more or less hibernating. Sleeping for 2 or 3 hours, reading a little bit, watching a little bit of Netflix then sleeping again. Yes, I’m aware this isn’t the dictionary definition of hibernating, but I Have Been Very Ill.
Last night was the first night I’d slept 7 hours in a row for about 5 days and wow did it make it a difference to how I felt today.
Today I feel semi-normal, although everything else around me feels a bit strange. Now I have the energy to go for a walk, write, lift or do some work it feels strange to want to do those things, like it’s something new. It feels a bit like when you go on holiday for two weeks and arrive home to discover how alien it feels to drive a car again.
Stranger still, over the last few days when I’ve been dying I’ve been doing something odd for me: using social media. A lot.
Every time I woke up I checked Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Open Facebook, scroll, close, open Instagram, scroll close, open Twitter, scroll, close.
I’m usually not one for browsing these so much. I have accounts on all of them and I publicly use them, but I don’t interact with the apps that much and I use all of them in total for about 15 minutes daily.
I’ve found as I’ve gotten deeper into scrolling through these sites more and more over the last few days where I nearly died that they’ve been making me two things: 1) sadder and 2) more desperate to see more.
What a tragic and powerful cocktail of feelings most social media pumps into our veins. Their addictive algorithms play with our dopamine levels and their content makes us sadder. We then paw at their glowing app icons in an effort to fix our sadness, only to find our addiction increasing and our sadness deepening.
Lots of people look to social media to provide a window into somebody else’s life, such as a favourite celebrity or a high school crush. But here is where the biggest lies in all of social media are told.
Social media doesn’t provide “windows” into anything. You aren’t looking into a person’s real life when you look through their window. At best you’re looking at a carefully drawn painting with all the blemishes removed. Social media allows us all to curate our own exhibition of perfect life moments to brag about, each one as perfect as a Royal Portrait of The Queen.
I’m just as bad. The majority of my social media is a collection of my successes and accomplishments designed to make me look better than you. When it isn’t about that it’s funny quips that’s designed to make me look funnier than you or moments in my life designed to make me look wiser than you.
Most of social media is a game of “Look How Much Better I Am Than You”. And—more interestingly—I think we’re beginning to reach the peak of it.
At the minute I’m reading the book that inspired Die Hard. It’s your typical action-adventure book, but in there of all places is a nugget of wisdom that sums up social media.
“The old technology got people out into the world and into contact with others. This stuff was for consumers locked in subdivided little warrens, people who lived like cattle being raised for slaughter.”
The biggest irony of social media is that none of it is social. Our interactions have been reduced to emojis, LOLs, likes, retweets and shares and it’s making us all worse people.
I remember trying to tackle this issue myself at a hackathon a few years ago (here I go again, look how much better I am than you) and creating a social networking app called Cheer The Duck Up. You were presented with people who had tweeted things about being sad and you had to try and cheer them up. I hadn’t realised at the time how potent that idea was, but today we need it more than ever.
The technology has made it easier, cheaper and more efficient for us not to go see people. We can chat to anybody in the world in a few seconds and be connected to thousands. The tech is allowing us to reach a bigger potential audience of friends but never really becoming friends with any of them.
And it has been proven to make us sadder. This recent article from The Guardian is pretty damning about Instagram.
“But, for a growing number of users – and mental health experts – the very positivity of Instagram is precisely the problem. The site encourages its users to present an upbeat, attractive image that others may find at best misleading and at worse harmful. If Facebook demonstrates that everyone is boring and Twitter proves that everyone is awful, Instagram makes you worry that everyone is perfect – except you.”
I say all this as the biggest hypocrite of it all. I fuel the flames of the social media algorithms, adding my content to them and checking to see how many likes my latest post gets. I pretend like my follower counts don’t matter but regularly preach to my marketing clients that theirs do.
I’m just a pawn in the social media game, just like you. I might not be as addicted to the usage as some but I’m still addicted to the game, commenting from the sidelines.
I have a theory to leave you with.
We were happier when we consumed less and made more.
Consumption makes us sadder, dumber and fatter. Creation makes us happier, smarter and fitter.
I needed to remember this today, as I caught myself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook for 20 minutes looking at funny cat videos.
The cat videos made my happy but left me empty. Now I’ve written this though?
My soul is warm again with the glow of creation.