What kind of impact does social media have on your life? Is it generally positive or do you have negative feelings towards those apps that draw us to incessantly check our smartphones? Have you thought about the connection between the use of social media and the plight of our planet? What about the health and happiness of the human race? The effect that social media has had on society since its rise in the noughties is quite startling, and recently I’ve found myself thinking deeply about my own relationship with it. Am I a slave to the tech giants, or is it a tool I can use for good?
The link between consumerism, over-consumption and social media has been plain to see for some time. What started out as ‘social networks’- platforms to connect virtually with friends – have become huge marketing machines on many levels. Even for small businesses like mine, social media has become an invaluable tool for reaching the right customers and an integral part of our marketing approach. The fact that they are free to use makes them accessible to even the smallest of small businesses and it is certainly one of the easiest ways to build an audience for your brand. On the flip side, social media is specifically designed to make its users become addicted. I know personally I have some level of addiction to my phone – unconsciously reaching for it when my husband pops to the kitchen to make tea during a movie. This, coupled with my concerns about the effects of over-consumption, have been troubling me for some time. But, it was two recent TV documentaries that have kept me awake at night unravelling my feelings about it, connecting the dots, and considering my own place within it and how I use it.
The first documentary was David Attenborough’s latest programme – Extinction – which is a difficult but essential watch, exposing all of the scientific fact around the destruction of biodiversity. All of it boiling down to the greed of humans believing that we can intervene, destroy and take from nature as we please. And it isn’t to satisfy our needs, it is to satisfy our wants. Without going into too much of the content (do go and watch it – it’s on iPlayer), one of the major issues highlighted is how our over-consumption is having a massive and devastating effect on our planet. Somehow, the human race has become obsessed with wanting more. We all want to be comfortable and enjoy the good things in life, but the problem is, so much of the time we are not thinking of the impact our purchases are having. The corporate companies of the world have so much power, and if we continue to feed our hard earned cash into those businesses, they will continue to meet our demand in the cheapest way they can, often with little regard for the environment. And, of course one of the things driving this perpetual consumerism is the fact that almost every time we pick up our phones we are being sold to.
This leads me to the second documentary. Aired on Netflix, The Social Dilemma is a quite frightening insight into how social media quite openly manipulates us both in our behaviour and our consumer choices. So many interesting points are made, mainly by ex-employees of the major tech giants, that truly illuminate what we essentially already know, but generally choose to ignore. One describes our smartphones as ‘digital pacifiers’ – what we automatically reach for in moments of boredom, awkwardness or anxiety or simply out of habit. Another pointed out how there is no other ‘tool’ that makes us feel concerned for our children’s health and well-being. Most tools we pick up to perform a task, not out of compulsion. Even in comparison to other computer software – we don’t constantly check in on Photoshop for example, we use it when there is a job we need to carry out. Therefore, it’s clear that social media is designed to make us ‘need’ it constantly throughout the day, our desire for the dopamine hit pulling us in. Less a useful tool, more a digital drug, perhaps?
Watching this was the final push I needed to close my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I have been toying with the idea for months and months, realising that I wasn’t gaining any real benefit from either app for my business – my main reason for utilising social media. It made me almost feel ashamed of my own weakness for not deleting them earlier – ashamed of the hold these phone apps had over me, always finding reasons why it was probably worth keeping them installed and active.
So what of Instagram? It still has a hold over me that’s for sure, and I found myself in a spot of turmoil as I reflected on my anxieties about over-consumption and whether I am complicit in it. I guess, in many ways, I am; producing a product to sell. But, I believe that being considerate about the way in which your product is made goes a long way to combating some of the problems our planet faces. We use paper from sustainable sources and print using vegetable inks. The laminate on our cover is biodegradable too. We offer an alternative option (a digital magazine) for those who prefer not to buy the paper version. The fact that the magazine is self-published means I have complete control over how it is produced, as opposed to working for a larger publisher and having little or no input into the production process. I also made note that we all have a need to make a living and support our families, and given my skill set, this is the best way I know how.
This realisation has also helped to alleviate my anxieties about the use of social media. I’ve came to terms with the fact that it is not that I use it, but how I use it is what matters. We – the users of social media – need to take control and not let it control us. It can be a ‘tool’ rather than a compulsion if we treat it that way. We need not be a slave to it, or let its algorithm beat us down when it doesn’t seem to go our way, but use it for good, and on our terms.
For me, first and foremost, it is a way to market my business and reach my audience, but it is also a means to show support for others whose ethos aligns with my own. Sharing the work of other small, ethical businesses who are also doing their best to make a living through their passion. I also hope to use it as a way to start conversations around topics that are important to me, raising questions and potentially informing whilst learning from others, too. Let’s not shame one another for mistakes we may have made, or incorrect use of language, but instead, when we spot something we disagree with or take issue with, approach the person in question privately and politely and address the problem in this way. Social media literally has the power to take down a business and even destroy lives, which sounds dramatic, but it absolutely does play a part, and it is not how it should be.
Unless you choose to completely remove social media apps from your phone, this virtual world is a permanent feature in our daily lives whether we like it or not. But, as we move towards the end of what has been a pretty horrific year in recent history, let’s try to consider the relationship we have with social media. Take time away from it and try to use it only when you feel it is productive or joyful. Remove any of the apps you don’t enjoy – no one says you have to have them all. Try not to be overly influenced, and be conscious of the consumer choices you make when scrolling through your feed. And finally, use it for good – be supportive, be thoughtful, be kind, be inspiring, be uplifting. By following these core values I’m finding my own attitude to social media refreshing itself, putting me back in control rather than the reverse. We need change in our lives on so many levels right now, and taking a look at why and how you use social media could actually be baby steps in the right direction. We can’t change the world single-handedly, but surely conscious consumerism, mental health awareness and just a little bit of kindness goes a long way to making it a better place?