Positively a Crisis On my screen the headlines blare, glaring out to the world that 50 more are dead. Who knows how many have it? This silent deadly killer that creeps around our spaces invisible, holding out its weapon to our chests without us knowing. Stay inside, save lives is what we are told. Isolated and separated we are more united than ever. Clapping for those on the frontline, our soldiers dressed in blue, forced and volunteered to fight the invisible, tiny enemy that infiltrates our bodies. They march into the unknown for us because our Country needs them. There are People around the world dying, and yet I feel so much loss. Loss for my normal life, I guess. Loss for the ability to go out, loss for a time gone by that may never be the same – will we still shake hands once this is all over? The germs! Will we live like hermits tucked away facing our computer screens for communication still? Much safer I suppose but it’s not for me. I crave to see my fellow humans face to face again. I crave not to see everyone in their own homes again – what was that they had on their bookshelf? I like my home to be my own sometimes. And for others’ homes to be their own too. Outside these four walls is a killer on the loose and yet the sun beams down, soaking my skin with no danger to be seen. No bombs dropped; no gun shots fired no alarm bells raging. Its silent. Its peaceful. The birds chirp, singing their songs of peace. They cluster together still. Our homes have become our prisons. We have become the harbourers of the enemy. In us it could lie waiting to pounce on us or on others. So, we stay locked up in our own comfort but never cowering. We stand all together this way to face it head on when our eyes are opened. Outside the sun still rises and sets each day, the moon glides over the sky, thousands of stars overhead shine in the darkness – from here only dots in a pool of black but up there they are hot, powerful and burning. Perspective is a funny thing. Then they fade from our view and the next day begins. We will get through this says the Queen. And I believe we will somehow because side by side we stand ready to pounce back.
‘Social media’ – a selection of platforms which are intended to improve and ease our social lives. The prospect sounds great; to bring us, worldwide, closer together. However, as with all things it has its downsides and with all the news at the moment i’m beginning to realise more and more that the cons are outweighing the benefits. More and more i’m finding social media exhausting, uninspiring and like an addictive chore – and it’s not the people i’m following, I’ve always been sure to unfollow when I’ve felt like i’ve needed to, it’s just having it there, having notifications ping up all the time, using it as a ‘break’ when it never feels like one, along with many other factors.
Quitting Social Media is difficult
To quit or not to quit my social media accounts has been the question I’ve been pondering for the last few years, probably much to the annoyance if those I know. I thought if I don’t like it so much and if I find it that exhausting why not just delete it all but there were and still are some things holding me back from doing so.
The Social Media Generation
The first issue is the fact that I am part of a generation in which the majority have social media. In fact, I don’t know anyone my age who hasn’t got at least one and i’m not alone in feeling that way as only 36% of the UK population aren’t on any social media. Therefore, it concerns me that there will be certain points in conversation I wouldn’t be able to contribute to if I deleted all my accounts completely. Already, as I don’t often go on my social media and I don’t always follow the accounts most do, it can feel that way.
Social Media provides opportunity?
Second is the opportunities you can get through social media. I watched a TED talk (linked below) where Dr Cal Newport argued that this excuse didn’t matter as due to our increasingly saturated economy people value innovation and commitment over a social media presence, arguing that people will ‘come and find you’ and that ‘any 16-year old with a smartphone’ can set up a successful social media presence. However, this sounds like a great argument for a computer scientist, which Newport is. But if you want to get into other fields in which audience engagement is key then a social media presence might be more of an advantage to you. There are also more opportunities advertised for young people on social media and if your career of interest is competitive thats especially useful. There is another term for these things and its called fear of missing out or, more commonly, F.O.M.O.
So why quit?
Social currency and value
Many people can get FOMO not only with the issues I’ve described but also with friends, according to one study 7 out of 10 students would get rid of their social networking accounts if it were not for fear of being ‘left out of the loop’. People see their friends having fun without them and feel left out. People publish their carefully curated lives on social media and it’s a facade, people pick and choose what they want others to see and sometimes it doesn’t feel like the person you know. It’s also a ‘highlight reel’ of all the good bits of peoples lives usually and people can feel like they’re inadequate asking questions of ‘why don’t I look like that’ or ‘why can’t I afford that holiday’. This internal dialogue of many social media users is so damaging to peoples self confidence and self worth, and it sounds awful to think that we can’t be pleased for those friends who do look like that or who can afford it but its often a part of human nature to start comparing and thats not helped with social media use where people are curating a so called ‘perfect’ version of themselves. So it is not to say that we didn’t have this problem before social media of comparing and self deprecating but it was on a smaller scale, comparing to celebrities in the latter half of the twentieth century and before that with friends in person. Then if you bring a number of followers, likes and comments into the mix the problem is exacerbated, its quantified rather than a feeling. It creates a kind of social currency, an economy of attention, that places worth on a person rather than simply a product. There are apps now as well which tell you who specifically it is thats unfollowed you or stopped liking your photos. To summarise, social media is unauthentic, its judgemental and it creates paranoia.
Furthermore, social media is addictive. There are attention engineers, psychologists, trained especially to advise social media companies on how to best target the points of the brain which appeal to addiction and more impulsive behaviours (which is why there can be more hate online than there is in person). Cal Newport, whom I mentioned above, referred to social media like a slot machine in your pocket, like being in Las Vegas all the time but rather than gambling money you’re gambling with the worth of your self and the content you publish. As its so addictive, it often means that our attentions are split between the task we have set ourselves and our social media. As soon as a notification appears it can be hard for people not to check it then maybe have a scroll whilst your there. This means that a lot of the time we’re not necessarily focused on the task at hand and we can feel like we’ve been less productive. Of course we can switch our phones off or put them on airplane mode, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be wanting to check and see and its likely you might check it when you have a break. But spending a break on your phone can be damaging too, you’re only temporarily diverting your attention rather than giving yourself time to relax a little. This need for a break is often why people like smoking, it gives them a chance to go outside and often be with your own thoughts or with others. But our phones mean that this break time never really happens. Your brain moves between task to social media to task to unsocial socialising with your phone again. Snapchat I think is the worst for this because it appeals to human curiosity, the fact that you can’t see what the sender has sent makes you feel a need to find out but then once you open it you have to answer it otherwise the message will disappear. And so the cycle goes, our focus is broken constantly pulled in different directions.
Social Media, Data and Information sharing
I have seen some research suggest that social media can be helpful to people at this time during lockdown to help stay in contact with others and the world. But for me I think it makes things more confusing. Social media platforms allows information to be published online to mass consumers in seconds whether it is fact checked or not, and information can be published by anyone. This spreads what Trump has coined ‘fake news’, journalists biting at the bit to get out the latest story in a competitive news race or manipulating information to fuel the latest speculation. In times like these that can spread fear where it may or may not be founded. I follow many different news outlets and each one publishes different data to the next with seemingly no information on why they are different. I still find this to be the case when the information is sent via email but the rapidity increases the likelihood that the information will be edited later.
Information protection is another reason many choose to not have social media accounts or to be wary. I don’t like that I cannot protect my own identity because of the fact that it is not tangible, you cannot see a hacker coming to take your information or exploiting it in any way or you aren’t told explicitly how your information is used or sold. I don’t like the fact that my identity feels like its out of my hands online; it can be taken, manipulated or sold and theres nothing you can do about it once its online. This isn’t only an issue of social media but of technology and the internet in general but social sites are the ones in which you input the most of your personal information. We actively participate in trends, memes, viral challenges that may all help companies collect data. Often social media sites have access to many more sites you visit too. I was thinking of deleting my Facebook account and then I thought of all the websites I signed up to that I still visit which I signed in to through facebook, I began to realise just how much control this website was having on my internet life.
Im not saying that Social media is wholly bad, it has connected us as a human race globally in so may ways, it has allowed us to contact people more easily and its given voices to those who otherwise might not have had one. But I have come to the conclusion that my real friends would still phone me and that ultimately I would be better off in my life without using it, personally and widely anyway, when I can work my way off of it – wish me luck.
What has your relationship been like with social media? Do you find it to be more of a source for good? How do you think some of these issues with social media could be solved?
Sources/ more information:
- Dr Cal Newport on why we should ‘Quit Social Media’
- Bailey Purnell, is social media affecting your mental health?
- Shoshana Zuboff, The age of Surveillance Capitalism
- Manchester University, Can social media help young people to cope with lock down?
- The Conversation, How our need to belong trumps our distrust of social media
- Jamie Bartlett, The People Vs Tech
- BBC Ideas, Why people are choosing to quit Social Media
Reading has long been a pastime to help us get through times of crisis, whether personally or globally. Reading is also a great thing to do now that we have a bit more time on our hands! Sometimes, when this all gets a bit too much, a more hopeful read is better to turn to, so these are my top five (they are not in any particular order because I can’t decide which is better!) Each one is a reminder of how wonderful the world can be, some are novels, others poetry but each are hopeful and mostly escapist.
- How to Stop Time By Matt Haig.
Matt Haig is renowned for his writings around mental health and positivity. This book is one of his few fictional works which centres around a man who ages much slower than the average human being so has seen considerably more of the past. Haig takes the reader compellingly from the time of witch burnings to Shakespeare to the present day. If you are struggling during these times you may wish also to check out Notes on a Nervous planet (for anxiety) or Reasons to stay alive (for depression). We are all finding our way through these uncertain and changing times in different ways, and some are coping better than others. But know that you are not alone if you are struggling. Scarlett Curtis’ book ‘Its not okay to feel blue and other lies’ also might be useful.
2. The Lord of The Rings By J. R. R. Tolkien
A book centred around companionship and unity, as well as myth, wizards, elves and hobbits, Tolkien wrote the book based on his friendships as well as with his love of medieval mythology.
“The World is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater”J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
3. The Poetry Pharmacy, William Sieghart
Poetry is often a source of solace during difficult times, and through these books Sieghart seeks to console the emotions with a suitable poem. Simply flick to the feeling of your choosing and have a read. Emilia Clarke is also currently doing readings of these poems on her instagram, along with other actors such as Stephen Fry and Andrew Scott which you can check out to get a taster, and when you buy the book all profits go to her charity ‘Same You’.
4. A Pair of Silver Wings By James Holland
Sometimes a reminder of a past crisis that people got through can bring hope for current ones. This is a really endearing book about friendship and love during the war as well as focusing on some mental health issues.
5. Silas Marner by George Eliot
This is quite a short novel based around someone who feels like an outsider in a new town slowly learning how to love life again. It’s a lovely read that demands its reader to look for hope in new, simple places.
Other honourable mentions:
‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown. This may not be overly hopeful but it is topical. There have been a few religious conspiracy theories around this time about this being about the revelations coming true. This book subtly deals with that through the issue of human overpopulation. It is a really thought provoking book, you can read my review here. It isn’t one for escapism out of the issues we are having today, but if you fancy diving deeper into the implications of scientific discovery and disease this is a compelling fictionalisation of it.
‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley. This is one of my all time favourite books, it focuses around two characters mainly, Dr Victor Frankenstein and his creature, scrutinising what it means to be good or bad. Shelley brilliantly plays with the readers idea of what a monster is and how we define it. If you haven’t read it, it is a classic that is worth reading.
Poems you can read online:
‘Hope is the thing with feathers‘ by Emily Dickinson. A poem about hope as a bird coming and going that is always there even if you don’t notice it. This is a great poem for when hope is needed most.
This poem is interesting too although i’m not sure who the author is or where the source of this poem comes from.
Another book that sounds hopeful, as it is in the name, is Humankind: A hopeful history by Rutgar Bregman which is published tomorrow. I can’t wait to have a read and find out what it is like, apparently it’s a bit like ‘Sapiens’.
That was quite a lot more books than five but I hope at least one of them sparked your interest. This is a difficult time for people all over the world, but I hope you are well and finding ways to find some kind of normality. If there are any other books that have helped you to do so please let me know in the comments, I’d love to find more hopeful books to read!
- If you are considering purchasing any books during lockdown and want to continue to support small hughstreet bookshops please consider buying them from Hive, an online retailer of books that supports small businesses.
- For more on how books have helped in the past, this is a fascinating article from The Conversation about how books helped people keep calm during WW2.