Social media is now a major part of our lives with over 2.46 billion people worldwide using at least one major social network app (such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat in 2017).
It has transformed the way we communicate, run our relationships and connect with people. We post everywhere – at work, in bed, on holiday. No longer do people travel and we wonder what they got up to, we already know because we’ve seen their updates on Facebook. We know the names of the pets owned by friends we haven’t seen in a decade, and we know what the head of the school PTA gets up to at the weekends from her Instagram stories.
Everywhere we go and everywhere we look, social media has infiltrated our lives. Even as I type this (I am sat on a train on my way to London) all around me people are mindlessly scrolling, with one person two seats in front actually making a full-blown social media video (in several agonising takes), much to the amusement/annoyance of everyone around them.
Back in 2015, I decided to take a year off from social media. I was encouraged by an unfortunate situation but finally did it after listening to a talk about mental health and mindfulness. I was lying there listening and thinking, I know I really need to incorporate this into my life, but how on earth can I fit meditation/relaxation/mindfulness in with everything else? Then it hit me. The time spent browsing Facebook could be spent on my own wellbeing. Eureka! I didn’t waste a moment. I deleted all of my accounts and removed the apps from my phone.
It’s now two years on from that moment and I re-joined the social media masses just over a year ago. Starting with the discovery of Instagram, which I find to be more of a positive community with far less politics and fake news. I also reluctantly re-joined Facebook in February, but mainly to allow me to run The Parent Pause page (you can’t run a page without a personal profile it seems). Having a year’s break has taught me so much and hopefully I have come back a more careful and reflective user.
Here are my list of pros…
Connecting with other Mums: It’s browsing Instagram at 4am (whilst breastfeeding for what feels like the 300th time) to see another mother post some encouraging words, or just sharing in how you’re feeling. It doesn’t matter whether they’re down the road or across the globe, the connection and the feeling you are not alone is invaluable.
Sharing ideas and best practice: I have had some wonderfully supportive tips with everything from cooking for my toddler, to help with my bad skin, to tips for moving house. There’s no where you can post a question or a worry and get a response quite so quickly and from a range of different people.
Sharing good experiences: There’s no doubt about it, people love to post about their triumphs. We all do it because it gives us a little boost and allows us to feel proud. Whether it’s a picture of our child starting a new school year or the announcement of a new job, we all love to share our good bits and who can blame us.
Sharing bad experiences: I see just as many posts these days about peoples’ bad days and that can only be a good thing for all of us. For many, their social media profile is the place where they can let their feelings out and rant far easier than they ever could face to face, which then, in turn, allows others to be honest and we end up with a far more realistic view of life. It shows us that it’s ok not to be ok sometimes.
Keeping up with family and friends: I love the fact that social media allows us to keep up with old friends and family members who live far away. When I was a child, I always wondered what my family in Australia were up to, now I can see and it’s such a lovely thing to have that connection.
Activities and events: Most events, nights out and activities we do as a family are influenced in some way by what I see or read on social media. I have also booked tickets directly as a result of seeing posts, which is why facebook advertising is now such a powerful tool.
The lowdown as it happens: It’s a guarantee that as soon as a major event happens, be it the Wimbledon finals or the general election, our news feeds will be full of it and as a result, you can’t fail to keep up with current affairs.
The bad parts…
There is no escape: Even having no social media accounts, I could not escape it because everyone would talk to me about what they had seen and heard anyway, and instead of getting it first hand and being able to mentally filter, I was hit with the gory details of things I really wasn’t wanting to hear.
Missing out: I would often miss important events and social occasions because the only form of advertising or invitation was on social media. I often heard the phrase “just look on Facebook” and not only from friends, but from organisations and groups too. I found this especially when it came to my kid’s hobbies, if I wanted information in any other form, it seemed I was a nuisance and as a “good parent” I should be keeping up with everything on Facebook.
Angry/negative messages: I’ve lost count of the amount of things I’ve read on social media that have made me feel sad, angry or down. Whether it’s someone ranting unecessarily about a local business, or using a passive aggressive statement to get to someone that has annoyed them. All of this really irritates me and I genuinely think that people in the social media bubble (a term I use for people who live out their lives through it) don’t even know how damaging their posts are.
Fake news: This year, I have seen so much rubbish circulating, but luckily I am able to filter it out. I worry about who these stories are reaching though, and the affect they’re having.
Hours wasted: We’ve all sat there with a ridiculous to-do list and tons of other things that need our attention, yet we turn on our social media apps and happily lose hours a day to scrolling and distraction. Switching off is so hard because we get so engrossed in our screens that the house could literally be falling down around us and we would still be reading that article or doing that quiz.
Substitute: For many people, social media contact has become a substitute for real life contact. Being connected all the time means you can pull up a friend’s profile so easily, that it’s much simpler to use online interaction as a substitute for face-to-face interaction. We could argue that social media actually promotes antisocial human behaviour.
Mental health: How many times have you looked at a photo that has made you feel bad or inadequate? Filtered photos and perfect on-line lives can give a seriously warped view of reality, aggravating low self-esteem, worry, anxiety and self doubt. Cyberbullying is also a serious cause of mental health problems, which can affect people of all ages, but especially children.
Blue light: This one is really serious and the main reason my phone isn’t allowed in my bedroom.
So many of us sit in bed on our phones without realising just how damaging blue light is. According to Harvard Health, it is unnatural for us to spend our evenings with our eyes basking in artificial light, with blue light from our screens being the most powerful at lowering our melotonin levels (the hormone needed for healthy sleep patterns). Blue light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack, affecting our sleep pattern and even worse, research shows that it may contribute to the cause of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, depression and obesity.
Remember, the late Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and inventor of the iPhone and iPad, would not let his own children use them.
To find out more about any of the issues I’ve raised use these links…