I have a love/hate relationship with social media.
I’d wager that you probably feel the same way too.
I love it because I enjoy connecting with so many good people whose kindness and support I truly value. I enjoy sharing aspects of my life: Stunning vistas of my new home in the Outer Hebrides; celebrating achievements of myself and others; sharing news; keeping up to date with the leisure vehicle industry; finding out truth behind current events that may go unreported or distorted by mainstream media outlets.
I hate it because of the way it devalues genuine human connection and relationships: Ill-informed rants and insecurities of scared and ignorant people; lack of respect for my boundaries, time, and my privacy; needy people with their incessant need for constant validation, and so on. Not to mention the time I waste myself scrolling.
Most of all, what I dislike most about social media is the posturing.
What do I mean by posturing?
A couple of taps on the keyboard is all it takes to be SEEN to be taking action. People feel good about themselves when they have shared or commented on a post that purports to be doing good. They are satisfying their own need to ‘do the right thing.’ The reality is, their actions have little positive effect. Despite their intentions, the Posturer is consciously or sub-consciously broadcasting the message “Look how GOOD I am! Look how CARING I am!” All because they shared a helpful post before getting back to ranting about people who are different to them.
A simple example, probably my favourite, is the sharing of a helpline number, be it for depression, suicide, or loneliness. I’m sure some people may have found such posts useful, but their effectiveness is undoubtedly limited.
Someone dear to me was very unwell some years ago, and as a result of her illness she tried to take her own life.
Now she has fully recovered, we have discussed her illness and her dark days. I asked her if someone sharing a helpline number on social media would have helped her at the time. She laughed at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Put it this way, in the weeks leading up to her attempted suicide, I myself had tried, and failed, to get through to her in person, face-to-face. It was already too late. My friend wasn’t there to hear me, just a confused pile of skin and bones that stared at me in a scared and vacuous way. I’ll admit that I have never felt so hopeless and so powerless in my life.
Making a real difference? That requires effort.
Whenever I see such posturing on social media I normally end up screaming at the screen, “Never mind hitting share, DO SOMETHING POSITIVE AND PICK UP THE BLOODY PHONE!” Someone who is not as unwell as was my friend might, just might, then feel valued enough in somebody’s life that they could be prevented from deteriorating into a worse state. It’s far easier for the healthy to reach out and help the suffering, than it is for the suffering to reach out and ask for help.
Picking up the phone and calling someone takes time and effort. However, none of your peers will know what you’ve done, so you won’t be able to feed any need for your own validation by posturing on social media. Putting in the effort to call someone you think might be lonely or struggling has the potential to make a real difference to that person. Sharing a tweet does not.
Right now, it’s not about me. It’s probably not about you, either
Recently, social media has become quite a toxic place. Anger, confusion, boredom, and cabin fever are all bubbling away thanks to the Covid-19 situation. That would be bad enough on its own, but now we have long-simmering racism issues boiling over as well.
The past week has been pretty exhausting on social media. I see the anger of black people and the injustices they suffer growing up in a society of white privilege. I see the bewilderment of white people having their privilege openly challenged, even when trying to say or do ‘the right thing.’ In the volatile world of social media, it would appear that a lot of people cannot do right for wrong just now.
I purposely didn’t join in with the posting of a black square. Does that make me silent, and therefore complicit with the culture of racism and racist oppression? Actually, I have not been silent at all. I have not been silent for over thirty years.
For those people who have a strong platform, a clear message, the humility to ask for guidance or resources, relevant experience, or relevant qualification, posting a black square with carefully-chosen text while turning Instagram into a sea of black is a thought-provoking and powerful thing.
For those people living with privilege and little relevant experience and knowledge, posting a square, typing the hash tag of Black Lives Matter, hitting post, then getting on with whatever they’re doing – does that actually help anybody? Yes, it’s nice to show allegiance, but what does it actually achieve other than show the world what a good and caring person you are, worthy of even more validation than you had before? No wonder many black people are angry.
My silence on social media allowed those with the relevant experience and educated messages to be heard. Mine was one fewer voice adding to the incessant din, allowing others to speak and me to learn.
Real change only occurs outside of your comfort zone
It is only on social media I was silent. I continue, as I have done for years, calmly yet persistently calling out racism in the real world. I was brought up in a racist environment and have gone through the discomfort of confronting teenage relatives in front of their parents on Christmas Day after discovering racist slogans written in their handwriting. I have challenged relatives in their hospital beds when they make racist remarks about the caring, skilled, and professionally qualified people who are treating and looking after them. Appalling beyond belief.
Last week, Racist Teenager’s sister, let’s call her the Instagram Queen, posted a black square. All her friends and peers could see what a caring person she is. But in order to make REAL change, she needs to leave her comfort zone and confront her brother, and her father. Will she do that though, now she has posted her black square and ticked her anti-racism box? In her mind, has she done her bit and it’s now time to move on and take the next selfie?
It’s uncomfortable to call out racism in person. I’ve put relationships on the line, but I cannot and do not let it lie. Unlike posting a black square, nobody is going to think any better or worse of me for my actions other than my close friends who helped me unload the resultant rant. And now, possibly, anyone who has read this blog entry.
Right now, I feel that the correct action to take is not to simply be seen to be doing the right thing in order to ease our own guilt. Right now, it is not about us and how we look, it is about learning about how we might actually make a positive difference to others.
However, it wasn’t the posturing and my need for education that has given me the push to turn my back on social media for 30 days. It was the Playground Bullies and their Gang.
Who are the Playground Bullies?
They are the people who deflect their own shame and guilt onto others, often cleverly disguised as humour or banter. These people don’t understand that banter is only harmless if those on the receiving end think it’s funny. If they don’t find it funny, they are then labelled ‘snowflakes,’ which again is a projection of Playground Bully’s own shame and self-loathing. Their Gang is, of course, composed of the cowards who hang off their shirt tails, knowing that the mocking is wrong and doesn’t align with their true values, but they are too weak and spineless to leave their comfortable bubble of privilege and make a stand.
It’s them I need a break from.
Thirty years ago, seeing the horrors and distress of livestock transportation first-hand whilst working aboard cross channel ferries, I switched to a vegetarian diet. A couple of years ago I ditched dairy as well and transitioned to a plant-based diet. I don’t call myself vegan for a variety of reasons. I still wear leather on occasion, and I feed meat to my dog. The label-makers, Playground Bullies, and sanctimonious gate keepers are always looking to find fault, so I refuse to give them the fuel they crave.
What I feed myself is, at the end of the day, my own business. I don’t tell other people what to eat, judge them, or mock them. I never have done. Yet for some reason, Playground Bullies and their Gang always seem to think it’s OK to mock the fact that I eat a healthy and compassionate diet. Why is that? Why do some people feel threatened by it? I can only guess that it is projection of their own shame at contributing, albeit at a safe and comfortable distance, to the misery of intensive animal farming while posturing and projecting the fact that they love animals on Twitter. Ah, so you love animals, but you happily eat their flesh and contribute to their life of misery? It’s OK as long as you don’t actually SEE it? Right. I don’t get it, but…OK.
A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. In order to avoid a life on medication, I cleaned up my plant-based diet, and took up running. I acknowledge and am prolifically grateful for the privilege I enjoy that allowed me to do that. I’ve listed the book below (How Not to Die) that helped me achieve my goal of staying off meds.
In three months, I lowered my likelihood of heart disease over the next 10 years from 10% (the threshold for medication) to a far healthier, and medication-free 7%. I have also massively lowered my incidence of migraine, but that’s another story for another time. At the age of 50 I have never felt fitter and healthier in my life. Thanks to a plant-based diet and a dollop of self-discipline, I’m saving our wonderful National Health Service (NHS) thousands of pounds’ worth of resources, from the time of clinical staff to the cost of medication.
Yet I am mocked for doing all this by the Playground Bullies and their Gang who posture on Social Media and made sure their neighbours could see them standing and clapping at their front door on a Thursday evening to thank the NHS.
Here’s a memo to the clappers: Your clapping made little tangible difference to the NHS, other than a moderate morale boost. If you really care about the NHS, you could have the backbone to stand up to the Playground Bullies, choose to make better life choices for yourself, improve your health, reduce your burden (current or future) on the NHS and let it focus its resources on those who really need it.
This week, a random insecure Playground Bully on Twitter mocked vegans. One of his or her Gang thought it was funny, retweeted it and tagged me. I don’t think it was done in a malicious way, but she obviously wanted a rise.
That’s when I’d decided I had had enough.
Why does it matter? Seriously, why?
Let’s add the transphobic comments I’ve seen this week, and this is why I boiled over:
- Why does it matter to anyone else if people choose to eat for health, longevity, quality of life, and compassion?
- Why does it matter to anyone else what colour somebody’s skin is?
- Why does it matter to anyone else which deity someone choses to worship, if they practice religion at all?
- Why does it matter to anyone else where somebody comes from?
- Why does it matter to anyone else which gender somebody loves?
- Why does it matter to anyone else which gender (if any) someone identifies with – or not?
Seriously, WHY? Why are all the above anyone else’s business?
As I stomped around wasting energy on how to best avenge the Playground Bully’s Gang Member on social media, a dear and close friend stopped me, calmed me down, and asked:
‘If a seagull poops on your shirt, do you swear and clean it up and then get on with your day, or do you dedicate the rest of your life to hunt down that seagull so you can teach it a lesson? The chances are, you’ll never teach the seagull to be mindful enough not to poop on someone. Stop wasting your energy.’
Wise words indeed.
If you want to know how people form opinions, I recommend the book Sway that I’ve listed below. You might be surprised at what you read.
Chasing pooping seagulls is a waste of energy. I’d rather invest that energy into learning about how I might better contribute to the world around me.
On a lighter note
I have started planning my first trip with the caravan since the lockdown, which will see me on the road for about eight weeks from 25th July—just six weeks away at the time of writing.
North Uist in the summer is beyond stunningly beautiful. I want to be present and enjoying every second of my time here before I leave, and not hunched over my phone looking for the next dopamine hit or being stressed during my time outdoors wondering how I might convert every magical moment and vista into engaging content. Four weeks away from Instagram and Twitter will certainly help with being ‘present.’ I do still intend to post a video or two to YouTube and will no doubt focus a little more on my blog.
I also need time to reflect, educate myself, and act in a world that is changing faster than most of us can keep up with. I think a lot of us need time to consider how to move on from here.
If what I have written has upset or angered you, then maybe it is time to ask yourself a few uncomfortable questions.
But to all the many, many lovely people I will miss for the next 30 days – I’ll see you on the other side.
How Not to Die by Dr Michael Greger – Does what it says on the cover
Sway – The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior (sic) by Rom and Ori Brafman – If you think intelligent humans base opinions on fact and logic, think again.