I have a deep and personal upset towards the founders of social media, the negative impact of which was never fully considered until it was too late. It all sounded very convenient, revolutionary in fact; it was meant to bring the human race together. It was all supposed to be a bit of fun, a way of connecting with people and browsing what our ‘friends’ had been up to from the confines of our houses. I sometimes wonder what life was like before phones became our extended body part, before social media, before apps, location trackers and ‘stories’. It’s difficult to imagine what a tube full of people who didn’t have screens to stare at would look like, would everyone still make so much of an effort to desperately avoid eye contact with everyone else around them? I wonder if people would sit twiddling their thumbs anxiously, visibly uncomfortable with the lack of distraction from their own thoughts. If phones weren’t a thing, would people be so unwilling to let their mind rest for one minute to re-organise their thoughts or to smile at the person across from you. Or would people be sat staring at the palm of their hand wondering why it felt like something was missing, something in the shape of a rectangle and made of glass.
I think my generation is the last generation to remember what growing up without advanced technology was like. My first memory of anything technological was my mum’s ancient, off-white coffin-sized monitor and keyboard that sat unsightly in the corner of our living room. I don’t remember ever having the curiosity to turn it on, to click the weird blob with the wire attached to it and see what curiosities awaited me behind the thick screen. I was too busy dangling my dolls out of the window by belts and scarves with notes attached to them for my mum to read. She would be smoking out of the window below and chatting to a friend on the phone, pen in hand ready to answer my secret messages. When she’d finished she’d then yank the scarf and I would reel the poor messenger back into my bedroom where I would be choking on the hilarity and sheer intelligence of my new found way to communicate. Genius. Such thrilling times were my childhood, too bad no one had a phone to hand to take fifty photos that no one would ever look at again or find funny because like most things, you had to be there.
You had to be there. This is one of my biggest irks with phones and social media. I don’t know how I managed to avoid this fad but like all things current I am a little slow on the uptake (I only recently found out what a podcast was after embarrassingly asking my friend if I had to youtube them). I went to a concert not too long ago and midway through a song I took my eyes away from the stage where they had been fixed since the music had started. As I looked around me, every single person was watching the show through their phone screens. Seriously, not one person was not videoing the singer; the room alight with the glow of a thousand flashes. A sea of screens. The same as when I reached the top of Table Mountain while in Cape Town a few months ago, or any view point for that matter now I think about it. Everyone rushing around and barging each other out of the way trying to get that ‘perfect shot’ that says ‘I had a GREAT time here, can’t you tell?’ It was all about lighting, about hair, about which way to face or which leg to bend. Not about how fresh the air was or how silent it felt what with being so far away from the busy roads below. It wasn’t about closing your eyes and embracing the magnitude of the range around you or basking in the insignificance of your being in comparison to it. As long as strangers on Instagram who don’t love or care for us as people can see your smile that’s all that matters.
If something is cool, chances are I haven’t heard of it and by the time I do get around to hearing about it it’s not cool anymore. I’ve always been pretty old school, choosing a really nice set of pens and pencils for Christmas when everyone else my age wanted Nintendo DS. Always being far more satisfied with a game of UNO with my dad rather than pestering him to play snake on his phone. Video games, no thanks. I had a TV in my room in my old flat for a year and only ever turned it on to watch the odd DVD. Even now I find watching videos on youtube a completely pointless exercise unless they’re educational, find scrolling through page after page of brain-numbing shite online highly unsatisfying. So this thing where people go to a gig, watch a street performer, visit a famous landmark or do anything remotely interesting and experience the whole entire thing through their camera is completely beyond me. I know I am the minority here and I’m a bit of a loser with certain things, but the instinct to immediately grab my phone out and start filming when something cool or funny or crazy happens is just not something I possess.
My mum is always moaning at me for not taking photos of the places I visit and the things I do. I tell her I am too busy actually living the things I’m doing to faff around on a device. I’m too busy enjoying the sounds, the smells and the feelings to consider breaking the spell by digging around in my rucksack, getting up camera and taking a crap quality photo that will in no way depict how awesome the actual event was. Granted, I am absolutely awful at taking photos and as my brother will you warn you never to ask me to take a photo of you and a building unless you want the top of it to be cut off at a dodgy angle and for it to have a random old man yawning in the background. But I also fully appreciate photography and artful picture taking- those who enjoy it and treasure the memories. Shout out to my friends who are actually good with their cameras and do take pics of me otherwise there would actually be 0 documentation that I actually existed between the years of 2006-2018, so thanks very much for that guys. And although I’m not a big picture taker myself, I always find seeing pictures of my friends and family fills me with joy and happiness at seeing their beautiful faces, it keeps me warm at night and I love seeing their smiles.
Don’t get me wrong I am by no means saying I don’t often fall victim to some of these crimes. I have been known to wait until ‘peak time’ before posting a photo and I have snapped up a quick pic or two of delicious meals .And I have no doubt wasted an obscene amount of my precious life reading the comments on the guy I fancies’ mothers’ sister’s yoga instructors’ house sitter’s engagement announcement. Muttering to myself that I actually cannot BELIEVE Tim almost blew it by booking the restaurant for 18.00 instead of 19.00 when we all know that Ella gets indigestion if she eats too soon after a stressful day at work. That is absolutely CLASSIC Timmy. All the while not knowing who the fuck Timmy is or really giving a tiny rat’s ass that Ella got heartburn anyway from all the proposal excitement and general merriment. But I guess I am lucky that I started late on the whole documenting thing, but I do still have to make conscious efforts to minimise my tech time. Forgetting to take my phone with me turned into choosing not to, deleting my Facebook and Snapchat apps and finally convincing myself that just because I wasn’t scrolling through everyone’s business all day long, business that I honestly have zero interest in, doesn’t mean I am missing out on something.
I was always so terrified that if I ejected myself from social media platforms that I would feel somewhat isolated and ‘left out’ of something, and in a way I still do. Although it was easy for me to give up Facebook because it really had become a garbage dump, now just using it as a place to share my blogs, Instagram has still got it’s claws buried deep into my flesh with its aesthetically pleasing food snaps and inspiring travel content. The last few years for me have been a minefield of self destruction and although the sources of this can be traced back to far more prominent factors, Instragram is/was one of the main reasons why I struggle the way I do and why thousands of others struggle more so than ever before with body image and self confidence. Instragram is a killer for unrealistic expectations, for impossible and unhealthy goals, like the mirror of Erised you see your deepest desires that are often false and unattainable.
I became obsessed with the fact that if there are people in the world that look like this, why on earth would anybody ever look twice at me. When you could have such a flawless and toned body surely anyone that saw mine would re-coil in disgust- what with the stretch marks, the wobbly bits and the blemishes. When you could have perfection why would you settle for anything less? Instagram is a hot bed for deceit, for ‘good angles’ and facades. A place for people to portray themselves however they like and in any way they choose, leading people to believe they’re living this amazing life when in reality everything could be falling down around them. They could be giving off the impression that they are excelling, achieving, doing these incredible things and that they ‘have it all’ when behind closed doors it could very well be the opposite. To base the quality of our lives on the ‘lives’ we see on social media is a travesty, to feel as though we are failing and underachieving if we don’t have X amount of followers or X amount of likes is appalling. This unhealthy obsession we have with seeking approval and going to extreme lengths to receive it from people we don’t even know, whose opinions we may not even respect if we were to ever meet them.
What I hate the most about technology is how anti-social it makes everybody. I’m a stewardess on scientific research ships meaning that I’m away at sea for a considerable length of time and one of my absolute favourite parts of floating around in the ocean is that the internet access is very limited. Basically as soon as I leave the UK my phone is on aeroplane mode for two whole months until I arrive home again. The only thing I can use on my phone is whatsapp in the common room for messages but not images, and to receive emails at a push. There are communal computers upstairs and I will use them to blog and check messenger occasionally for those who don’t have my number, but it’s very slow and the signal is often down. So that means in the evenings, during breaks and on half days at the weekend if there are any, myself and my fellow shipmates actually spend quality time together. Varied in ages, backgrounds and personalities we crack out the board games, we put on some pre-downloaded tunes and we actually enjoy good old fashioned cell-phone free chat. No one is silently scrolling in the corner, or tap, tap, tappin’ away mid conversation, everyone is laughing and playing and engaging with each other and it’s absolutely glorious.
When you’re at sea you learn to appreciate the small things, like in the mornings when I clean the officers’ cabins, one of the engineers and I have a whiteboard poetry exchange, where one day I’ll write something and a few days later he’ll have responded. I started it by me leaving little motivational quotes and drawing silly pirate related pictures for him when I made his bed, and now he responds with literature- a sure way to my heart. He’s got to be sixty odd and we often don’t talk in the day, but it’s just a nice way to make each other smile when you’re thousands of miles from normality. When one of us starts a crossword, we all join in; Urmming and ahhhing and trying to draw up the useless knowledge stored in the depths of our brains. I take this phone free time for granted, and it’s only when we re-enter the world and those three or four little signal bars crop back up and everyone slowly but surely disappears back into their shell do I selfishly wish a wave would come and snatch all the mobiles away, burying them deep beneath the surface so I can have my friends back.
If you’re going for a walk with your mum, leave your phone at home. If you’re stood in a queue with your friends, play a game or start a conversation. If you’re visiting somewhere or doing something you want to remember, take one good pic then pop the phone away and immerse yourself in the situation. And while it’s perfectly acceptable to capture life, make sure you actually get a chance to fully live it. No one’s going to base your value on how many ‘likes’ you have, they’re going to measure it by your substance and what you bring to the world. Before you go to bed at night just close your eyes and think, ‘what’s the worst that can happen if I stop posting on social media?’ if your answer is ‘I don’t want people to forget about me’ then you underestimate your friends. If your answer is ‘I like people to see what I’m doing’ then you need to address your need for approval. If you’re answer is simply because you enjoy it and do actually gain something from it, like me- then you should be able to take it or leave it and remember that if you ever DID decide to delete the app and be finished with it, your place in the world would remain as important, the dinners you’d eat would still be delicious and your body would still look great in a bikini. You are not defined by your social media accounts; you are worth so much more than that. You’re the sky, the moon and all the stars.