Whenever I log into TikTok, I am bombarded with a barrage of scantily dressed bodies, vulgar language and pranks verging on assault, all fascinating but somewhat unsolicited, and I can’t help but wonder if the priority is me, or if it is my attention.
Colloquially, we speak of cognitive dissonance in such terms as being in two minds. The dictionary defines it as the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. I would hazard a guess that it is a term symbiotic with many a narrative of prolonged social media interaction.
I first started using Facebook in 2009, and almost right off the bat I was struck by the ease with which I could connect with people all over the world. I even managed to find a new Aunt; I have no recollection of this woman, neither does my mother - her sister, but supposedly she held me when I was ye years old, so… that’s something! Since 2009, I have seen social media evolve to the point where it has a direct influence on many of the spheres that modern life revolve around. Commerce is one such example. Facebook, for instance, in addition to providing jobs for thousands and lining the public coffers with significant tax revenue, is now a marketplace on par with eBay - that faded old Brobdingnagian of our youth.
Twitter has morphed into something of a customisable news outlet that, as we witnessed in the dying days of President Trump’s tenure, is ‘wholly dedicated’ to extinguishing fake news. Besides, social media is a goldmine of artistic expression. I have seen Instagrams and TikToks that would have made the Van Gogh’s and Da Vinci’s of yesteryear pause to draw breath. Factor in, also, the blogging and photo sharing propensities of social media, coupled with its innovative text and gaming features and it is easy to see why we cling on to this twenty-first-century wonder.
Whenever I log into TikTok, I am bombarded with a barrage of scantily dressed bodies, vulgar language and pranks verging on assault, all fascinating but somewhat unsolicited, and I can’t help but wonder if the priority is me, or if it is my attention. Social media is a business modelled around an attention-craving algorithm. The time we spend plugged in, the clicks and interactions we make, all translate into revenue. There are times that I wish I could claw back the hours (which never feel like hours) spent scrolling through a plethora of mind-numbing “content”. I have to confess, I’ve logged off to log back in enough times now to strip the act of any and all surprise. Part of me worries that scrolling has become a bit of an addiction...
Cyberbullying has also come into prominence with its exponential increase; charting a course parallel to the widespread increase in social media access. In time gone by, the home was a safe place, a bunker away from the machinations of the gatekeepers of playground politics. Today, in the UK, one in nine children aged five to nineteen live with a mental health disorder. Many of today’s children carry their bullies in their pockets, and I believe this is largely to blame for the startling rise of this statistic, when compared to, for example, just 13 years ago when it was significantly lower.
Another issue with how we use social media is that many of us share our greatest moments, but despite knowing that everyone else is likely to do the same, we still compare our everyday moments to other people’s highlights. Before very long, this gives birth to shame. Shame deceives a person into thinking that they are not good enough now, and that they will never be good enough - ever! It is a venomous and useless emotion. All problems have a solution however, and in the interest of fairness it surely has to be said, all interactions with technology are collaborations; so any negative experiences of social media are a consequence of how one approaches it.
Or so it would seem! The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data protection fiasco was definitely a negative social media experience and it was not of our making. It was an event that woke many up to the darker uses of social media. Many have since then come to regard it as the axis around which both the leave campaign and presidential election of 2016 revolved. The scandal saw the personal data of millions of citizens stolen and manipulated to influence the course of global politics. Although the resultant judicial hearings lead to widespread policy change; with GDPR being introduced just 2 years later in 2018, in the end, not a single arrest was made. That's a bit scary, isn’t it?
That said, I hypothesize that if we were all to dedicate some time to figuring out our values and bringing our beliefs into awareness, we would be better equipped to navigate both life and the recesses of some of social media’s darker elements. The more one learns about the self, the more of the self one can hold in compassion. Self-compassion is armour! We cannot be everything, only ourselves and all comparisons to the contrary are fruitless.
Another solution is to add your voice to the efforts of Thierry Henry and many others campaigning for a reform of the current social platforms. The banishment of the 45th President, though troubling in some aspects (mainly in the fact that it was implemented only after the man had exhausted his political clout), proved that the giants have the power to moderate their apps. If they were further pressed to pursue a more conscientious business model, who knows, perhaps all the things we love about social media would be emphasized. Another option is to take a break. If I have learnt anything from WhatsApp dictatorships - it is that if being somewhere is more agonizing than joyful, you can simply leave. Failing that, we could simply just topple the giants. The world today is inundated with technological genii. What's to stop someone from creating a more conscientious alternative? An exodus of Myspace-to-Facebook proportions, would soon see the denizens of Silicon Valley stripped of their power and consigned, in due time, to forgetfulness. The maths I learned at school taught me that the many outnumbered the few. It would be a small revolution, in many considerations, but highly consequential all the same.
I enjoy social media, it allows me to stay in touch with family, friends and half-friends, as well as to express myself and to access new opportunities. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that many others feel the same way. Addictions are characterized by the fact that they are so hard to shake and that is due, in large part, to the fact that they are never all bad. Love it or loath it, it has become a part of who we are, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. If you discover for yourself that you are too conflicted or that you derive more discomfort than joy from being on social media, I would advise you to go without. Even more so, if your misgivings have more to do with the principles of the thing itself than how you use it. Nothing is more important than mental wellbeing and it remains an infallible truth that no one has power over us, but us.
Marshall is a self-taught student of psychology, hugely interested in diasporic politics and contending with the question of how we can all best function within an increasingly polarised society.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.