Digi Domi

Sharing my passion for technology and learning.

Education, not exclusion.

I was going to write a reply as a comment to the BBC article I’m about to talk about, however, I found myself rapidly heading towards the character limit without having actually made my point. That was partially because I’m not a very direct communicator, but also because I had too much to say, hence this blog post.

So, this article shows that in a recent survey Instagram came up as the most dangerous social network for young people’s mental health. Cut to the comments with lots of people posting along the lines of, “Aha! I told you social media was bad. Back in my day….” and of course, “You should just see people in ‘real life’….”. Both of these sentiments make me so annoyed it’s all I can do not to start waving my arms around (which is fine at home, but in a public space might cause some alarm). Let me now take the time to address my problems with these sentiments.

Social media is bad – and this is evidence

This first one annoys me because it is wrong, but also because I feel it is the wrong conclusion to draw. I don’t think this shows that social media (Instagram in particular) is bad. The article talks about how Instagram has a negative impact on young people’s mental health for the reasons you might expect, anxiety, loneliness, bullying and body image.  It is easy to conclude that this means they should get off social media, but that isn’t necessarily the ideal solution in my mind. The article also talks about some of the positive impacts of social media, on self-express for example. I truly believe that it would be better if we could educate young people (and let’s be honest ourselves as well) to understand how to interact with social media better. To understand that it is not healthy to compare yourself to others, that just because someone is different does not make them better or worse. You can appreciate someone else’s beauty (say an Instagram post of a model or makeup artists work) without comparing it to yourself – just learn to accept that you are different and have your own strengths. It is also important to learn the amount of work that goes into making people look amazing. This is something I myself have had to learn when I would often feel sad looking in the mirror because my hair just looked boring and rubbish. I then started to learn that it takes a long time to create the amazing hair I was comparing myself to, rather than the quick wash and brush I had as my routine. After that I was able to stop comparing myself, and also decided to make a little more effort on my own hair.

In terms of addressing loneliness, social media is a double-edged sword. It can help people feel less lonely in some cases, by connecting them with like-minded people who may not be located in their geographical area. I find this useful as a vegan without many vegan friends. I can join groups and follow certain people who talk about veganism, share tips, and just generally make me feel like I’m not the only person who feels like I do, I’m not a freak. On the flip side, it can also make people feel very lonely by always showing others out enjoying life. It is easy to conclude by looking at your social media feed that everyone else you know is constantly out, partying, going to gigs and other events, and just generally enjoying life. Whereas here you are, sat on the sofa/ in bed, looking a mess in sweatpants and just being a loser. This naturally raises two questions in your mind, firstly why is everyone having more fun than me, and secondly, why didn’t they invite me? It is important to note (and again, I say this as someone who has had this as part of their own personal journey) that most people are not constantly out partying and having the best lives ever. Social media tends to show the best of people’s lives because this is how we chose to present ourselves. It is understandable, people are often looked down upon for showing weakness and so we show the happy times. We also want to be able to look back on our own timelines and see how great our lives have been. It doesn’t show the in-between times (which might be long or short) and it doesn’t show what is going on in people’s minds – those people themselves may be suffering from mental health issues and just not showing it. This again is why it’s important to have education about how we interact with social media and try not to be comparative.

Real life

I might just be being pedantic here, but when people refer to real life they should actually be talking about physical life or the physical world. What happens online is very much part of our real lives, to suggest otherwise is not only incorrect it is also dismissive and demeaning to anyone who has mental health issues impacted by social media. If what happened online was part of some non-real life then it wouldn’t have such a profound effect on our lives. Our online and offline lives are becoming increasingly blended, and are both very much real. The relationships I have formed and/or maintain online are just as meaningful to me as those that I have physical contact with. In a global society, it is not always possible to have physical contact with those we love – my own parents are separated from me by the seas and so emailing, texted and Facebook helps us keep in touch and stay connected. The same is true for many of my friends and family who are on the same land-mass but the geographical distance and the financial implication of travel mean we don’t get to maintain as much physical contact as we’d like and have to rely on social media. None of these relationships are diminished by this. In fact, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to argue social media allows people to have better relationships, by allowing them to communicate with people they want to, when they want to, rather than forcing them to interact only with those in physical range.

I get it. Technology is always seen as scary and threatening. Everyone wants to go back to the good old days, but only to when they were a kid. I’m not sure there are many boomers who are arguing cars or telephones corrupt our experiences of the world and we should go back to travel by horse, or even to drawings on cave walls to communicate. Change means change, it forces us to adapt and to come up with new ways of understanding and interacting with the world around us – but that is often the way with progress.

So I don’t think shutting the door, or logging off, are the solution. I think understanding and education are a much better way to keep moving forward.

Final thought

All of the above also comes with one last caveat, which is that as a society we need to get better at understanding mental health. We need to be more sensitive to it and understand that it is not always visible. We need to understand this and we need to recognise it not as a weakness but as an illness. Better awareness and facilities can make it easier for people to get professional help and that can save lives.

Link to the article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39955295

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