Life is Wasted on Social Media | Edward Gifford


The reason to be rid of social media is paradoxically the one which keeps most people on it: that it is a false world. A perfect world of superficiality is not a trivial complaint but a damning indictment. But that is what everyone else is doing, so why should I, being similar to the majority, do any different?  Well, it sets up an innate tension between the real external world and the curated one behind the screen, between the perfect and the imperfect. These alternate states are irreconcilable since the real world is, by nature, imperfect as are those who inhabit it.

Yet social media offers a soothing comfort blanket to escape the strains and stresses of actual life. But the stresses, and strains, the aches and pains are what life is all about and to shy away from them, deny their existence, is the road to ruin. From this angle, it is easy to see how many, once hooked, find it nigh on impossible to stop

‘Hooked’ is the correct word. Smartphones and the apps on them are explicitly designed to be addictive; creators borrowed techniques from Las Vegas casinos hiring “attention and engagement experts” to exploit the brain’s natural reward mechanism – high jacking it to foster an addiction. The physical prevalence of smartphones means we carry a slot machine in all but name, one specifically designed to distract, everywhere we go. Thus, becoming a blackhole that sucks us out of the real now, a constant reminder of our imperfect world beckons with a siren’s call.

Structurally these platforms, Twitter and Facebook in particular, amplify noise which does not need to be heard and in some cases should not be heard at all. They grant weirdos a community within which to revel in their wickedness; to find out that they are not alone hidden by societal stigma, but their condition is to be celebrated. Observe those who wish to understand paedophilia. No, burn in hell.

They instead force us back into a state of nature, one in which now only the loudest and most brash, rather than the fittest, are heard at all; serious discussion is impossible and will via the voting mechanisms – likes and retweets – be buried beneath a mass of short, sharp rebukes. The majority of users are looking, consciously or not, for that short, sharp shock (a hit of dopamine). This is detrimental to reasoned argument and independent critical thought.

And has already diluted, trivialized and coarsened our real politic life into a shouting match, preventing a rational discussion of the different ways to solve social ills. Our culture and politics descend further into ochlocracy. (Indeed, if one’s thoughts go against majority opinion one is seen as anti-democratic.)

Plugging oneself into an inexhaustible world-wide stream of information, opinion and news is unheard of and unnecessary. Being frank, a factory fire in rural china is of no concern to a lower sixth pupil from Lancashire or anyone else for that matter, save diplomats in Her Majesty’s Foreign office. Many try to take the weight of the world upon their shoulders but with no more constructive outlet than a virtue signalling tweet to say, ‘I care’; this soulless approach manifests itself in the soaring rates of anxiety and depression amongst young people. One’s perfect bubble is popped; the real world has broken through the bejewelled shroud and as a remedy one turns back to the cause – reinflating the bubble with more of the poison.

As a comparatively late starter in today’s youth – my first smartphone was given to me at age 15 – I felt like I had much lost ground to make up once that device was up and running. Indeed, it felt like I could only be up and running once this digital doppelganger was created.

When one is in the flow of school, that all-encompassing experience, often things are done for no reason at all and become habit based upon nothing but other-directed motives. Upon leaving school one realizes, or should if there is to be any positive development, that the world is far bigger than the dining hall, the playing fields, friend’s houses – and in later years, the local pub. And accepting this means leaving behind the stubborn, unhelpful remnants of school life anchored in the digital realm. Consider whether you really are “friends” with that boy you once knew from school; or that friend of a friend never met in real life? Do you really feel part of that influencer’s “community”? Is that girl whose stories you react to really interested? Are you? Or is it all one big dance around a maypole that does not exist.

It is inevitable, since we are “modern”, that barriers are placed between us and the wild, many of these are good and helpful in multitude of ways. And I am not arguing that we should return to mud huts and Chinese whispers, but rather that we should not take these multiplying layers as necessary, correct or infallible by right. I am arguing, in part, that social media disconnects some of the world’s most materially rich and comfortable people from the real world resulting in unhappy, nomadic consumers.

There is a life outside the digital one – rather life is outside of it.


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