LIKE, TWEET, RETWEET.
Social media is perhaps one of the 21st Century’s premier technological advancements. It broke down barriers and made the world ever smaller and with the advent of facebook in 2004, it became possible to communicate with ease with people thousands of miles away. All it took, was setting up a facebook account and sending a few friend requests which were accepted and then you could communicate with your ‘friends’. It was exciting and it was refreshing and if you were not on facebook you were the odd man out. I joined facebook at the end of 2009. I was just 14 and for me it was like a whole new vista had been opened to me. So many people to catch up with, reconnect with and new friends to make. It was a pubescent volcano’s dream. After facebook came twitter, viber and then instagram, snap chat and all those other apps. Every like, comment, tag filled me with a certain thrill and I was pleased that someone had stamped a seal of approval on whatever I had commented, a picture I had posted or a post I had written. The likes, comments, shares and retweets are what I like to call the social media seals of approval. Every photo uploaded, post or comment was tailored to impress the virtual community. The crazy thing is that we were too naïve and ignorant to see at the time that it satisfied a certain baser desire in all of mankind, approval from fellow men. It was like a sweet drug that we didn’t know was slowly drugging us further down into the abyss of men’s-approval. This constant desire to feel accepted, and approved as if we ever needed to live for the approval of others, could never be satisfied and I wanted more. Worse still, it had a time consuming and addictive propensity. Checking my facebook, whatsapp or instagram became the default activity not just in my free time but wherever I was and it became a reflex action to open my phone and check my social media activity. Church, family time you name it, along with the constant need to update the virtual world about whatever it is I was doing. It’s like a beautiful moment was never really complete till I had shared it with the virtual world and in those moments, instead of taking it in, my mind was preoccupied with recording it and uploading it onto social media. Feeling the need to show the virtual world what I was up to. Frequently, I found myself drawing inward more and more and I would be with people physically while my mind was trapped in my smart phone. I would sit hunched with my phone in my hands scrolling down or chatting with someone on social media. I recall one Christmas when we cousins were all seated in the sitting room and instead of sharing the beauty of Christmas with each other we were all deeply engrossed in our phones. One could be forgiven for thinking we were sitting for some sort of virtual examination on our phones. See that’s the thing with social media, it creates a social disconnect. We were getting so sucked into the virtual superficial conversations and forgetting to have the real conversations with real people and not the screens in front of us. In a way we were becoming impersonal beings because we were abuzz with activity in the virtual world and in the physical world we were becoming stone cold creatures. We were beginning to forget what it meant to go outside and look at the birds, the trees and just live in the world. We were turning into real human beings trapped in an unreal world of likes, shares, comments and tags. Nowadays it’s commonplace to see many a road user, be it a driver or a pedestrian staring down at a small screen unbothered that he or she could get hurt because their focus isn’t on the road. Before social media was even created, we were fine and yet now we can’t even do without our phones. They have become our best friends,
confidants and even our pillows! I have fallen asleep with a phone in my hand countless times. We have slowly become enslaved by our phones only that in this instance we love and worship our slave masters with a devotion that even Adolf Hitler would envy. Instead of fleeing from the beast, we are running to it with arms asunder. Birthdays, bridal showers, baby showers, anniversaries, parties have become competitions because people know that they are going to upload these pictures onto social media and woe to them if they don’t live up to the unreal standards of social media. Relationships which are beautiful and I believe! supposed to be private things are plastered onto facebook and instagram to show the entire world how ‘happy’ the couple is thereby bringing something so beautiful and so private into the public realm and when things go sour, the photos shared of the couple in happier days are quietly deleted. In fact Jenn Sinrich 1 in her article, ‘What your Social Media Posts Say About your Relationship’ says that if the only time you think to log on onto social media is to say something, or post a photo, about your relationship, it says you have something to prove to the world which may be a sign of insecurity as an individual or in your relationship and commenting and including your partner on everything you do is what an insecure or co- dependent relationship looks like. So who are we fooling? Of late, there are instagram models. People who have huge followings on instagram and post photos of themselves plastered with make-up and lip stick. For the culture…For the likes. Essena O’Neill2 was making thousands of dollars modelling on instagram and sharing her pictures and then deleted 2000 photos from her account and changed her name to ‘Social media is not real life’ and re-captioned many of the remaining pictures to reveal the real truth behind them and launched a website called ‘Let’s be game changers’. She goes on to say that she was spending 50+ hours on her social media curating her social media persona and she was miserable, tuck, uninspired and angry. I will share some of the things she said for the re- captioned pictures. ‘I had acne here, this is a lot of make-up. I was smiling because I thought I looked good. Happiness based on aesthetics will suffocate your potential here on earth, ‘In one picture taken in a flawless white dress she says, ‘I didn’t pay for the dress, took countless photos trying to look hot for instagram, the FOMO made me feel incredibly alone.’ In another post in which she wore what appears to be a beach top she writes,’ If you find yourself looking at instagram girls and wishing your life was theres…Realise you only see what they want…’ (Her instagram handle is essenaoneill just in case you want to verify what I am saying.) Essena always wanted to be popular on social media and closely monitored other social media celebrities and tried to emulate them in order to build her own following and by posting glamorous shots of herself and her seemingly perfect life, she managed to scale the fake heights of social media stardom. She confessed that it didn’t bring her happiness but only consumed her. Essena’s story is a factual example of how unreal things are and the struggle for many to conform. For twitter, whole whatsapp groups have been formed where people share their tweets so that those in the group can go and like and retweet the tweets as if their lives depend on the likes and retweets. I have been part of such a group and I can tell you the struggle to go viral is real. Everyone fighting for their twelve
seconds of fame. Trying to attain social media popularity. Some even go as far as begging for the retweets. They can’t even get them on the merit of the content of what they are posting which is laughable and quite ridiculous. Slaves to the likes and retweets they have become. Before uploading pictures on facebook, twitter or instagram a picture will be subjected to countless filters to make a person look a certain way. It’s almost as if who we are is not good enough and we must ‘improve ourselves’. (You are beautiful just the way you are and no one or nothing should make you feel otherwise). One can be forgiven for not recognising someone whose heavily filtered picture they have seen on social media and this goes for both men and women. We will in most cases post our best pictures of us living our best lives. Jessica Wakeman in her article ‘Your favourite selfie filter could be contributing to a mental health crisis’ says that taking, looking at and sharing edited images of ourselves is fostering a fixation on how we look to others, and that the filters made available to users and invisible to viewers are creating an even less realistic portrait of what other people and their lives looks like. The article goes on to reveal that in a report carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health on the impact of social media usage on mental health, every single social media platform apart from You Tube was associated with user’s anxiety and depression with instagram and snap chat being ranked lowest. It goes on to say that social media platforms are updated with millions of images every single day and with the rise of filters, the selfies to which people are comparing themselves to are increasingly not a reflection of anyone’s lived reality. Instagram for example has over 20 filters some of which artificially lighten or darken skin and eliminate perceived flaws and snap chat has been accused of white-washing people of colour with filters that automatically lighten skin, thin noses and make eyes rounder. In a significant way it has changed how we perceive ourselves. We look at ourselves according to certain unrealistic standards and feel the need to uphold them forgetting that at the end of the day we are beautiful just the way we are and there is no escaping from who we really are. It is not real and yet we get so caught up in its fickle superficial reality in which we have to conform to certain standards or be crushed under the weight of its expectations. When I say these things, I shouldn’t be mistaken for one who is free from these contradictions and entrapments. I am part of this world too and I am subject to its pressures and expectations. I too have felt the unrealistic pull.
The scales began to fall from my eyes in early 2018. I would fall asleep and wake up in the middle of the night and my first instinct was to check my social media accounts in order to see how many likes shares, retweets, or comments I had got and if I found nothing, I would feel very disappointed. No one had noticed what I had done. I hadn’t got even a single ‘precious’ seals of approval. I would check again a few hours later and if I had some likes, retweets or shares, that would leave me feeling better. I had become a slave to the approval and validation of the virtual world. I was oblivious to the effect this was having on my psyche and I was giving something so unreal a tremendous hold on me. I began comparing myself to other seemingly successful people on social media and regarding my own life with feelings of depression and forgetting the beautiful life God had given me. The blows that came from comparing myself damaged the walls of my self-esteem. I was oblivious to the fact that people will only post the great aspects of their lives leaving out the things which are not great. I had forgotten that people have their struggles too and despite all the likes and
retweets they are fighting too. I had forgotten that social media is not real. I had forgotten that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I had forgotten that the only approval and validation I needed was that which God through his son Jesus had already given me.
Beverly Flaxington3 in her article, ‘Seeking Validation Online Doesn’t Bring Real Happiness’ says, ‘
‘People with high self-confidence are less negatively affected by social media than those whose self-confidence is lacking. By constantly comparing themselves to apparently perfect images online, social media users whose self-confidence is lacking can become more anxious or depressed over what others seem to have and they don’t.
I must confess that my self-confidence has never been sky-high and yet the bear that is social media was tearing me apart on the inside, ghoulishly ripping the last vestiges of my own self-worth apart.
Beverly goes on to say,
‘That nagging feeling of not being able to measure up will only lead to less self-confidence and an erosion of self-worth. Each log-in can chip away just a bit more of any good feeling a person might have had…While it may seem that everybody else’s life is just fabulous while you are the only one struggling through it, deep down you know that isn’t true…Some brave souls will talk about their struggles, but mostly it’s a medium that allows people to show the rest of the world the best of what’s happening. You’re often looking at a tiny snippet of their reality without any context…’
We are much more than our online personas.
Social media was becoming a huge time waster and a destructor too. I couldn’t read law reports for more than ten minutes without checking my whatsapp or twitter. In class, by default once the lecturer came in, it became twitter time. I figured that since I doze in class it would be better not to waste the time anyway. What harm could it do? In church, I couldn’t help but feel the need to scroll through my facebook timeline. Heck, I couldn’t even watch my beloved Manchester United without tweeting about some flash point in the match. Time spent with my family was permeated with complaints from my parents about how I was constantly on my phone and I kept telling myself that there was nothing else to do and that they couldn’t really understand. In reality, these are the people I have been given and I was substituting time with them for time in a virtual unloving world. I was exchanging real relationships for virtual ones. Without thinking, my fingers were itching to comment, to like, to share, to have an opinion, to tweet, or retweet. 5 minutes would soon turn into 15 minutes and then 30 and then an hour and then I was hooked. Covering huge amounts of work was a herculean task. Reading for more than ten minutes became an achievement because of an incessant and irrational need to stay updated with the happenings in the virtual world. We must credit the makers of social media applications for a splendid job done in creating products which our generation just can’t get enough of. Products which have
captured our minds and held us hostage in the little devices called smart phones. The telecommunication companies smelling blood have joined in on the kill too by coming up with social media bundles by which subscribers pay money for data bundles which only work for social media applications. In doing so keeping us even more firmly rooted in the façade that is social media. It’s like a lollipop that never runs out. It’s sweet and so we just keep sucking our time away. They take not only our minds but also our time and money and yet our generation can’t seem to see this.
Trevor Noah in his autobiography says that if we could weigh the amount of crap we see on social media, it would probably be in tonnes. We most probably become more of what we are constantly in contact with. If I spend most of my time with drug addicts I will most probably become one myself even if I wasn’t one before. You will agree with me that most of the stuff on social media is useless and full of crap. I was becoming as Davis; a friend of mine likes to say, a privileged cabbage. My aim on twitter and instagram became to accumulate more and more followers because followership in this day and age is also some kind of achievement and woe to the person who I would follow and he or she didn’t follow me back. A quick un-follow would ensue. Justice was served! I wanted to trend on twitter. I too wanted my 12 seconds of fame and fortune and I wanted the hundreds of retweets and likes. I lived for the thrill and that rush of blood to the head when my phone buzzed with notifications. I wanted to be known in the virtual world forgetting that to be known by the Lord of the universe is worth more than all the fame and fortune that the entire world could give you. I cared more about the approval of strangers. How they came to control so much of my life is a pity. I was also consuming huge amounts of material which in the grand scheme of things was wholly un-beneficial to me. There I was directing all my creative energy into crafting funny tweets or facebook posts. I am not saying that it’s bad to log in and have a good laugh at a couple of memes, catch up with old friends and be entertained but when it is all that the mind is being fed on we become mere cabbages because we are taking in stuff that is not necessarily building us up. If I am constantly eating junk, I am going to grow big and get sick but if I do regular exercises, eat well and rest enough I am building up a strong healthy body. Similarly, if I am hooked and taking in useless material what value am I adding to myself? How am I building up my mind? Questions? Questions?
I don’t write this as some kind of white knight. I am part of the system and I have felt and I still feel the familiar pressures to conform or be crushed. The scales have been falling from my eyes and I am still a work in progress taking one day at a time and celebrating the little milestones and pressing on. I started by accepting that I had a social media addiction. I realised that I needed to change because this was not good and it was leading me nowhere. Asking God to rid me of it slowly by slowly because by his stripes we are healed and then reading articles by a professor Cal Newport on the negative effects of social media helped me to un-package many of the things I was feeling. Then taking it day by day, and filling my days with more productive activities like learning more about the guitar, reading more books( So far I have read 8 books this year), reading newspapers, spending more time with my family, learning new things among others. I am not advocating for a total social media blackout but for a significant reduction in the amount of time spent on social media because the truth is social media for all of its obvious flaws has its advantages like news, connecting
people, business, entertainment and so on but as the adage goes, too much of anything is bad. As I said it is a daily struggle, but I feel like my mind is de-cluttered, the pressures to conform are not as strong, and even when I post something, the pressure for likes, retweets and shares is steadily losing its hold on me. I can spend hours on end without checking my whatsapp and twitter is restricted for once or twice a day for a few minutes. There is so much to do, to see, to learn, to say, to hear and to achieve. The truth is that we were made for so much more and I see more and more that social media puts us in a virtual box and stifles our creativity. Like Narcissus who was unable to leave his own reflection in the mirror, our generation is unable to pull itself out of the quicksand of social media. Professor Cal Newport in his article, ‘ On Analog Social Media‘4 shares testimonies of a de-clutter experiment he carried out in which more than 1600 people signed up to take a break from optional technologies among which include social media and I shall proceed to share some of the testimonies of those who took part in his experiment. An engineer named James realised how much information he used to consume through social media which was unimportant or useless and with this drain on his attention removed he returned to his old hobby of playing chess and became an enthusiast of architectural lego kits. An IT professional called Andy noted that he reads 3-5 books a year and free from the time sink of social media he is on track to finish 50 books in 2018. A publishing executive called Leonie started a blog and redirects her time and creative energy into making something that is uniquely hers instead of getting caught up in the ‘compete and compare’ culture of social media.
Professor Cal Newport goes on to write that when you minimise their role in your life, you free up time for other more valuable pursuits and the fear of missing out should not dictate our lives. I am still a work in progress but firmly on the journey to disentangling myself from the mire that is social media. Join me.
NYOMBI SOLOMON IGNATIUS
(In case you’re interested you could find some of Cal Newport’s Articles at
ii) http://calnewport.com/blog/2018/03/25/beyond-deletefacebook-more thoughts-on- embracing-thesocial-internet-over-social-media/
iv) https://www.boredpanda.com/truth-behind-instagram-social media-not-real-life- essena-oneill/
v) https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understand- other-people/201602/seeking-validation-online-doesnt-bring-real- happiness%3famp
vi) https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.brides.com/story/what-your-social-media- posts-say-about-your-relationship/amp