An in-depth reflection on the pros and cons of social media on our wellbeing

This is not another of those articles urging you to take up a ‘digital detox’. But nor is it a biased post with a commercial ulterior motive. These are my reflections on the social media age that we woke up to one morning. At least, that’s how it seems to me. I’m old enough to remember the pre-digital era, but only just. Like most of us, I slipped into using Facebook without a second thought. It went from a niche network of university friends to an online network with an astounding 1.94 billion active monthly users, according to Statista [1]. Rarely has anything so suddenly infiltrated so many parts of our lives, with Facebook messaging often replacing email or text, with photos often being shared in the network, political viewpoints announced to the world, objects bought and sold, jobs advertised, groups formed… the list goes on. But how many of us have really stopped to think about how we use it and how well it serves us? It took me a while to do so, but I’m mighty glad I did. Here are some of the things I thought about social media use (especially Facebook, but also other network.

Envy

Something that often comes up when you talk to people about Facebook is the green-eyed-monster that rises up in us as we scroll down the news feed. Instagram feeds can provoke similar issues. For many, the feed is composed of people showing what a great time they’re having, and, in many cases, how many friends they supposedly have (in the form of likes). No matter how much we tell ourselves we know it’s just a facade and that the number of likes is pretty meaningless, do we believe it? According to new research by disability charity Scope, 62% of Facebook and Twitter users felt their own achievements were inadequate when compared to the posts of others, and 60% said that the sites had made them jealous of other users [2]. The test, I think, is to observe how you feel as you scroll down. Do you feel happy for the people there? Bored? Envious? Competitive? Depressed? Then let your feelings dictate what you do next, be it continuing as you are, limiting how long you spend on Facebook, stopping viewing the news feed or leaving Facebook altogether. For me, this reflection led me to stop viewing the news feed and I chose a photography page I like to be listed first so that generally when I log in I see its latest post. I find that now I more often message friends directly to see what they’re doing, which leads me on to the next point…

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Facebook and Instagram often seem to be filled with images of people having a great time with friends or family. Beach holiday image by Natalya Zaritskaya on Unsplash.

 

Unsatisfying communication

Another issue I’ve heard discussed is the unsatisfying nature of relationships that don’t exist beyond Facebook. Much as it’s nice when someone likes something you post, it’s not a conversation. I do sometimes wonder if actual one-to-one communication has diminished because people spend idle moments scrolling through the news feed rather than sending a text or giving someone a call. Ever since I stopped using the news feed, I’ve definitely been interacting more with people one-to-one, which I find so much more satisfying.

Of course, it is possible to get into discussions on Facebook, but it’s not something I see a lot of. WordPress is much better for in-depth discussion I find, while Twitter is rather worse, due to the character limits.

That said, apparently finding out you’ve received a ‘like’ literally gives you a mini high [3], so on one level it is quite satisfying.

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It is very difficult not to be at all competitive about likes and not to feel envy when we see someone has got a lot of them.

 

Good for groups

In my experience, Facebook is quite good for groups. It’s easy to set one up and people don’t need to log in twice. It’s easy to share photos and videos and comment on them. Facebook groups are the reason I’m still using the network. Of course, face-to-face groups are great too, probably more so, but Facebook groups have the upper hand when it comes to convenience and reaching people from all over the world. Again, it’s no doubt well worth checking in with how you actually feel when you use online groups; if you’re just getting into arguments or using it as a distraction, it might be time to leave.

Facebook: the graveyard of friendships, if you don’t have regular ‘clear outs’

A friend once described Facebook in this way as we chatted about its negative side. It struck a chord right away. I’ve never found the time or the heart to do a ‘friend cull’ and about 80% of my Facebook ‘friends’ are people I knew long ago. Needless to say, the Facebook algorithms love to let me know that some person I once vaguely knew is happily married, or has had a baby. Facebook also likes to remind me of people I was once friends with via it’s ‘what you were doing x years ago’ feature.

Facebook can be great when you are at school or university with a big network of real-life connections, and you’re meeting new people all the time, but when it begins to look and feel like a dismal graveyard it’s time to either do that cull (hopefully if there’s been no contact for several years no-one will take offence), stop looking at the news feed or leave.

If you keep your network fairly small, maybe the news feed items will provide a genuine encouragement to stay in touch with more distant friends rather than simply informing you about people you’ve ceased to care about.

graveyard image
Facebook: the graveyard of friendships unless you’ve had a clear out

 

Political tools, but use with care

I have mixed feelings about politics and social media. Certainly we now have the opportunity to find likeminded people from all over the world and co-ordinate political action. But we also have the opportunity to rant and say the first thing that comes into our head. To anonymously intimidate and threaten. To be highly reactive, not reflective. And to sound off in an (often rather depressing/angry) echo chamber of people who share our views, or bombard those who will simply ‘mute’ us as soon as they see a view they don’t agree with. I’d much rather read a considered blog post, or listen to a vlog, and get into a discussion around that. And I think face-to-face discussion with people we know is probably more likely to impact on their views than a ranty post.

As for getting informed about politics and news on social media, it’s certainly more fun than newspapers but of course there is the risk of fake news when there’s no-one vetting the accuracy of the posts. Social media is also a convenient soapbox for populist characters to make all sorts of claims (you know who I mean, I’m sure…).

Social media use can make us too focused on ourselves and on selfish goals

On the whole, people are happier when they see the bigger picture in life. The more I focus on MY popularity, my likes, my photos and so on, the more self-absorbed I am. We all know someone who is constantly uploading pictures of themselves, and this intense focus on appearance can’t be good for us. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of having a ‘brand’ either. I want my friends to be my friends on good and bad days, through boredom and adventure, regardless of my popularity or attractiveness. For me, that means having real-world friends and not investing too much time in the airbrushed version of myself that social media so strongly encourages.

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There’s no doubt that social media can make us more self-involved

 

I’m also not really a fan of the fact that Facebook posts are so often about marriage and kids. I’m not sure if it’s their algorithms doing this or purely what gets the most likes, but, while I have nothing against marriage or starting a family, I’d rather see posts about people making the world a better place more generally. And I’d rather see creativity than the consumerism encouraged by checking in and constantly posting about restaurants etc.

I even read that the more photogenic dogs are the most popular ones to be taken from dog rescue centres. No doubt some people even get a pet purely to get more likes – pretty silly.

Thinking about these aspects has reinforced my decision to avoid the news feed, which is even easier if you have the messenger app so don’t need to log into Facebook to see your messages. I only post about myself from time to time and always try to remind myself that I’m not on a quest for likes. Another thing that’s interesting to do is to ask yourself why you are thinking of posting something, and if it’s a very shallow reason, decide not to do it.

Facebook is good for appreciation, but is it creating an environment of forced positivity?

The comments that tend to get most likes are positive ones, and I’d certainly agree that it’s wise to appreciate the good things in our lives. However, I do wonder if the fact that most comments are of the ‘I’m so happy’ type might be making it more difficult for people to talk about their struggles. Prior to the introduction of the sad face, angry face and amazed face, negative posts usually received little reaction, and maybe the introduction of those other options came too late to change the fact that most posts are of the gloating kind. In my experience, it’s only worth airing your troubles on Facebook within the context of a support group.

A few other thoughts:

– encouragement of procrastination

– distraction from work/family/relationship/social life/crossing the street safely!

– there are a lot of bots and prostitutes on some networks

– Twitter is extremely commercial: it can be hard to use it for social ends when so many users have commercial aims

BUT…

– social networks are great for sharing information, and indeed I use them to share bits of ‘unconventional wisdom’ and these posts

– easy to connect with people around the world

– sometimes an enjoyable distraction during a tea break etc.

 

What are your thoughts? How do you use social media? Would you like to change how you use it? Share your thoughts below.

 

References

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nurturing-self-compassion/201703/mental-health-and-the-effects-social-media

[3] http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/teens/how-facebook-is-like-a-drug-addiction/news-story/ad4d1f2cc2cc8ec191dcae6d874b9b47

Related links: (some of many!)

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/behind-online-behavior/201408/the-psychology-behind-social-media-interactions

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-first-impression/201611/the-psychology-social-media

https://fashionandstylepolice.com/2017/02/28/is-social-media-making-us-more-vain/

http://www.itsbeccajayne.com/2017/04/01/is-social-media-all-its-cracked-up-to-be/

https://lilpickmeup.com/2017/03/06/21st-century-breakups-divorces-are-harder-with-social-media/

We need to learn to manage ‘choice overwhelm’

This is something that’s really been on my mind lately. Having many choices is very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s good to have options, but, on the other hand, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and over-stretched, never feeling like you have enough time for anything. I think some people are more prone to this than others.

It is often assumed that a benefit of the free market is having lots of choice. I’m sure it’s better than having no choice, but at times I do wish there was a bit less choice. I’ve often spent hours trying to find the best price or the best product, and it was tedious and exhausting. I felt, somehow, obliged to do it. If you enjoy shopping around, or, alternatively, don’t feel obliged to do it, I envy you!

A writer in the Economist seems to agree with me, saying “The explosion of available goods has only made time feel more crunched”. [1]

A gender thing?

Women seem to be more prone to this than men, as we find ourselves traipsing round all the shops to be sure we’re getting the absolute best deal on something, whereas men seem to find it a lot easier to just buy the first suitable item. I remember a journalist once saying the same difference applies to holiday booking. Of course, browsing and getting the best deal can be really enjoyable, if you like that kind of thing… But, if you don’t, how do you drop the habit?

Never enough time, and FOMO

And it’s not just shopping that can be plagued by choice overload. Our leisure time can often feel fraught as we struggle to juggle invites, events we want to attend, chores that need doing and hobbies we’re struggling to keep up with, not to mention exercise and spending time with friends and family. When did having lots of wonderful options turn into feeling like we never have enough time and always feeling like we’re missing out?

child-in-maze

The vast, messy, ever-present internet

Obviously, the internet has a lot to do with choice overload. It offers almost infinite resources including blogs, vlogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and news websites. I was wondering the other day whether teenagers are allowed to have their phones at school lunchtimes. Our hour-long lunchtimes seemed to last forever and were usually very boring; I feel like I could’ve had a better time online. Most often though, I reminisce about an era when people didn’t check their phones during our lunch date, an era when I seemed to spend a great deal of time enjoying the outdoors… It comes as no surprise that 60% (or more) of British 16−24-year-olds visit a social media site several times a day. [2] Ultimately, I think the internet is a good thing, but how can someone who used to read magazines from cover to cover get the most out of a great resource without feeling overwhelmed?

Netflix and such

The same issue can arise with things like Netflix: in the olden days, we had a choice of 4 channels and recording something to watch later was a bit of a pain. You went to a shop to hire videos. Now, we are faced with a huge choice of material, on demand. But we simply don’t have time to watch it all so, how to choose?

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Thanks to the internet, our leisure options now look a bit like this. (Photo of 7 doors from Pixabay)

The pain of prioritising

The obvious answer to the ‘too much choice’ problem is clear: prioritise. For years I somehow didn’t realise this was necessary, accepting invites in a first-come-first-served manner, planning my life with a scattergun approach, lacking any ‘white space’ to reflect on life or make decisions. At one point, I actually had to pencil in my diary a slot to make a decision on some big issue, because otherwise the time didn’t arise! Looking back on that time, I’m so glad that my life is now so much more spacious.

Prioritising has a big place in my life now: in my work and professional development, in my personal admin time and in my leisure time. I’m the kind of person who finds many things interesting, so prioritising is, frankly, often quite painful, especially when it means saying ‘no’ to something. Ultimately though, time is finite and I don’t want to be one of those people who is completely over-stretched, never really listening to anyone or having time to reflect on their relationships and lifestyle. So, I’ve chosen my key hobbies (three of them), I’ve narrowed down my areas of work, and I prioritise friends based on how much they seem to care about our friendship.

Other strategies to manage choice overload and overwhelm

I’m thinking aloud here. Feel free to help me in the comments section below! This is very much a work in progress for me.

  • Think about how you fill your time. Rank the activities, from ‘favourite’ to ‘not that keen on’. Can you cut anything out? I realised I don’t really enjoy eating out: now I only do it for special occasions like birthdays or when a friend suggests it. Can you increase your favourite things? Maybe you just need to suggest them more, and people will be as keen as you are.
  • Narrow down the apps and social media. Do you really need to be on them all? Decide which ones are of most benefit to you and your network, and bin off the rest.

daria-nepriakhina-unsplash-woman-looking-at-phone

One study shows that young adults use their smartphones roughly twice as much as they estimate that they do (an average of five hours a day). [3] Photo by Daria Nepriakhina (Unsplash)

  • See the bigger picture: It’s not all about you. When you prioritise, factor in the feelings of relevant people. And give yourself enough time to help a stranger on your way somewhere, or do something for a friend at the weekend. Life isn’t a hedonistic pleasure spree, even if advertisers want us to think it is.
  • Narrow down your hobbies to the two or three most important ones. Combine them with socialising if appropriate e.g. in art clubs, book groups, dance groups, Meetups etc.
  • Learn mindfulness and slow down. Give up the frantic pace and really get the most out of what you’re doing right now.
  • Accept that life is full of obstacles and other people’s inefficiencies. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, so take a deep breath and let go. Don’t resent the ‘wasted time’ − it would only make you angry.
  • At the risk of losing email subscribers to this blog, I’m still going to say it: subscribe to only a select few things. 
  • Set limits: decide in advance how long you’ll spend looking for the best deals (or whatever it is you’re doing), or limit yourself to looking only at a certain number of websites, for example.
  • Whatever you do, don’t get emails and Facebook notifications popping up on your laptop or phone screen!
  • In your free time, try thinking ‘what do I actually feel like doing now?’ Learn to go with your instincts instead of following a habit to go on Netflix, Facebook or whatever. Maybe you’ll actually feel more like going for a walk, painting, calling a friend, baking a cake…. Don’t know about you, but too much time online makes me feel bug-eyed, zoned out and drained.
  • Keep some white space in your diary. 
  • Look for recommendations g. try the Good Garage guide if you need to choose a local garage and consider subscribing to Which?

Share your ideas and reflections below!

Related links:

http://liveyourlegend.net/the-art-of-slowing-down-12-simple-ways/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201109/4-tips-slowing-down-reduce-stress

http://bemorewithless.com/artofslow/

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/105969207/posts/274 When choices become clutter

 

References:

[1] http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21636612-time-poverty-problem-partly-perception-and-partly-distribution-why

[2] 2014/15 Department for Culture, Media and Sport https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/476095/Taking_Part_201415_Focus_on_Free_time_activities.pdf

[3] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0139004

 

 

 

Why the arts might save your life

It’s easy to dismiss these things as fairly trivial, but are they?

Sometimes when I think about low pay in the arts, I think ‘well, I guess it’s not as important as medical services, or food or electricity provision. You can go without the arts’. But can you? Does anyone? Most people watch films and listen to music, even if reading fiction, going to galleries and attending an opera are more niche. Millions watch TV talent shows. It’s easy to dismiss these things as fairly trivial, but are they?

Have you ever been feeling really sad or worried and turned to your favourite film, book or comedian to help you through? I know I have. According to the stats, 1 in 4 people will experience some sort of mental health problem in the course of a year. [1]. And while drugs and/or therapy might be a big help, I think the arts are a lifeline we often don’t recognise until the time comes.

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Most of us turn to TV and film when we need a distraction. Photo by Jens Kreuter on Unsplash

As a young adult, I remember thinking that, if it weren’t for music, and especially for British rock band, Feeder, I might not still be around. Music has always been massively important to me. No matter how you’re feeling, there’s bound to be a band that can sum up that feeling in a song, even if the song lyrics don’t really match your situation. And for those who prefer to listen to something jolly to cheer themselves up, there’s plenty of jolly music going around.

A photo by Daniel Ebersole. unsplash.com/photos/Q14J2k8VE3U
Music can be a lifeline. Photo of a concert by Daniel Erbersole on Unsplash

And the value of music isn’t just anecdotal. Studies in hospital settings have shown that listening to music reduces anxiety and depression, as well as having positive effects on blood pressure and heart rate. [2]

Of course, it’s not just music that can help people through a rough patch. I had to stop drinking several years ago for a medical reason. At times when in the past getting pissed might have seemed the answer, I now go to the library and get a shitload of books. It’s not glamorous, it’s not massively cool, but it works. Get lost in a book and you’re oblivious to your problems. Not only that, but some books are really uplifting in one way or another, so that by the end you do feel a bit better as well.

What’s your go-to art form? Love musicals or dance shows? Theatre, film, comedy? What helps you feel better? Has anything helped you through dark times?

A photo by hieu le. unsplash.com/photos/SrkuyPb3aUk
Reading is my therapy of choice. Photo by Hieu Li on Unsplash

And then there’s actually getting involved in art; the therapeutic value of this is a little better known. Does painting cheer you up? Playing an instrument? Writing? I should admit right now that I’m partly writing this to escape from the bloody awful week I’m having right now. But I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know your thoughts below 🙂

Related links:

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/59686568/posts/51

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/120981412/posts/339

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/116154522/posts/22

Therapeutic usefulness of music and music-making:

http://neuroarts.org/pdf/arts_in_psychother.pdf

References

[1] http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-statistics/

[2] Arts and Music in Healthcare: An overview of the medical literature: 2004-2011, Rosalia Staricoff and Stephen Clift.

 

 

 

Unconventional Wisdom

Expand your mind. Challenge your perceptions. Discuss, discover and exchange.

Unconventional Wisdom is for the brave individuals who are ready to fully open their minds to other opinions. Research has shown that we often defend our current views and disregard anything contradicting them because that feels the safest option. We live in a world where reflection is on the decline and emotional reactions are on the increase. Opt out of the reactivity, opt into careful examination of the facts. Let’s discuss things calmly, with logical reasoning. Join us as we re-examine common assumptions and popular behaviour across a wide range of topics. Feel free to submit a post (the more logical and backed up by facts, the better) and feel free to comment on posts – respectfully, of course. Each post will remain anonymous to protect the writers from trolls.

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