Social Media and Me

Wednesday 11 November 2020

On Tuesday I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. A docudrama which I would recommend spending 125 minutes of your life watching and by watching, I mean with no social media apps open and no laptop screen blocking your view of your television. As someone who is likely balancing on the periphery of being addicted to social media with a short attention span to boot, I did both and I really wish I hadn’t.

Some who have recommended I view this have proclaimed their visceral distress at the realisation that many forms of social media (if not all forms to some extent) are constructed around the idea of trying to get the user addicted on some level to using their platforms. For me however, I used it more as a much-needed reminder of how easy it is to be addicted to scrolling through endless feeds of posts and videos.

Watching The Social Dilemma also perfectly complimented my most recent reading material. Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media, which does what it says on the tin really. It cites the loss of your volition to technology and the inequitable financial situation which a world absolutely reliant on social media would likely find itself in. These to name just a couple of his most compelling arguments for deleting your accounts.

Lanier also appears alongside Shoshana Zuboff in the Netflix special. Despite Zuboff’s intricate study of Surveillance Capitalism, the former’s work is perhaps easier to understand for someone lacking in a more rounded technical knowledge like me. It also got me thinking about how I could write about my own experiences with social media without straying too far into the technicalities of how it all works. Perhaps, creating an uneducated personal account of social media under several sub-headings. Well here goes nothing I suppose.

Tempus Fugit

It’s another gloomy morning in Aberdeen and therefore, a perfect opportunity to sit down and get studying for an array of fast incoming deadlines. My smartphone is likely sitting on my desk, although I’ve recently got into the habit of laying it on the opposite side of my room to give my attention span a bit more of a chance. I start reading through my notes. Its 10am.

Just as I’m getting into my reading a notification pings loudly on the phone and I fall into the trap of checking my device with the aim of seeing who could possibly be contacting me. Suddenly another notification pings and several minutes later I’m scrolling through videos on Facebook or through various opinionated and outraged posts on Twitter, unforgivably leaving any slight willpower at my desk.

Finally, I switch my phone off, annoyed that I’ve likely eaten into maybe ten minutes off my study time. I check my bed side alarm. Its 10:45 and thus we have a terrifying example of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, in this case confined to a device the length of my index finger.      

No Need to Feel Bashful

We’ve all been there haven’t we. You’re at a party (pre Covid-19) trapped with someone you barely know and there’s a clear stiffness in the conversation or lack of one, which is proving awkward. Instead of asking the person a quirky question which could provide you with a means of reigning in the inherent awkwardness of the moment, you reach for your phone and begin to scroll aimlessly.

There are of course extroverted people out there who are great at creating discussion with someone which they don’t know too well. As of yet, I am generally not one of these people, particularly if I’m sober. It is common for me to enter such situations feeling bashful and uneasy. Feelings which I will regularly counter-balance by reaching for my mobile. A device (in both senses of the word) which has done more damage than good in the long-term because as long as I continue following this pattern of behavior, the less confident I’ll become in handling social situations. Therefore, leaving me in the vicinity of a Catch 22 situation.    

The Fear of Missing Out

In July 2014 I joined Facebook. I was almost 16 years old and had arrogantly thought of myself as some sort of maverick for shaking off the magnetism of social media in my formative years at secondary school.  As I built friends over the following months I was struck by the sudden urgency and seemingly endless desire to know what other people were up to.

By nature, I’m a curious (and perhaps nosey) person and I found that platforms such as Strava feed this personality trait. Strava, for the uninitiated, is an app which allows athletes to predominantly record their runs and cycles through the use of GPS which is then circulated around other athletes’ feeds. I used to be an avid user and it proved a highly effective personal tool for motivating me to go further and faster. On the flipside of this was an unhealthy obsession with comparing myself to other users on a daily basis.

 Strava became like a shrine of better cyclists and runners for me to worship and this soon fed into increasing anxiety which I was already starting to feel as a teenager studying for their Highers. This being comparable to a feeling of missing out or not being invited which I know many people, especially teens, experience on a regular basis through shared events and the subsequent pics on platforms like Facebook.    

Indestructible Bubbles

It is almost common knowledge that social media can feed the issue of becoming trapped in an echo chamber of your political views and values. This is one of the aspects of it which I think concerns me the most. After choosing to study Media Studies in my last year at school, I became fascinated with the idea of bias and started to question whether any news outlet could ever really exclaim that it was either truly fair or balanced.

I started reading newspaper articles online and read The Guardian on a regular basis, leaving other publications and news sites at the wayside in my quest to become more knowledgeable about news gathering and production. It wasn’t until we were shown Outfoxed in class one day that I became more aware of being sucked into a so-called news bubble and after attempting to make myself aware of alternative news sites, I realised that The Guardian was comparable to drawing a warm bath for someone whose values predominantly lean to the left (shock horror).

This has of course been amplified since then, following my decision to join Twitter two years ago. My Twitter feed quickly became largely dominated by a steady feed of left leaning articles, comment and a lot of faux outrage at the other side of the political spectrum. If and when a post from the likes of Nigel Farage does appear on my feed, I’ve developed the unhealthy habit of screenshotting it before sending it into a group chat where we can all become suitably outraged without actually taking any action outside ticking a box in a polling booth.    

Need to Know Now

One of the slight fears I have about trying to become a full-time paid journalist is the seemingly super human ability which many in the profession have for keeping up with an endless and ever-changing news cycle. It genuinely frightens me.

In order to keep across the news, we’re encouraged as journalism students to be across social media, checking local citizen news pages such as Fubar News, while most experienced journos seemingly find the time in their hectic workday to send out handfuls of fresh tweets.

As a form of practice for what may be to come, I find myself trying to keep up to date with the news at all times through a messy combination of social media feeds, news websites, rolling TV news and podcasts. This relatively recent drive for journalists to be across all forms of online media is also likely the very last bastion preventing me from quitting my social media if I ever actually took that action.    

No Sleep for the Wicked

In recent months I’ve discovered an unsurprising correlation between late night screen time and an interrupted sleep pattern. I would make a case that flicking through social media late at night not only makes me feel more awake in that moment, but also increases an anxiety which often visits when I’m lying in bed tossing and turning.

When the now denounced Louis CK commented on the inability of humans to sit still in a world with so much amazing technology at hand, it wasn’t just comedy. It is this struggle to be stuck with nothing but my thoughts and a dark room which leaves me teetering on the edge of panic and needing a distraction in the form of my phone.

Fortunately, I’ve gradually becoming better at swapping the sleep intolerant device for a book. When struggling to sleep as a child visiting my grandparents, my late grandfather would often hand me a novel and tell me to read it until I was tired. I find myself sleeping for longer and better after drifting off with a book in my hand.   

Keep in Touch

Last but not least, is what I would argue is the most significant hurdle for many social media users who have considered quitting their platforms. The need to keep in touch with those closest to you and to develop new contacts.

In the modern day, it is arguably a lot easier to give someone a quick follow and direct message than to exchange mobile numbers. Indeed, my mobile phone would be almost futile without its capacity for applications like messenger, my grandparents now being the only people I primarily contact without the use of an app.

This also feeds into the previous need to know now category, with it being of importance to me that I can comment or react to experiences which people are having and sharing on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. I think this can also be viewed as a method of trying to keep in touch in an increasingly digital world.

Conclusion

I realise this meandering essay of a blog post has solely focused on which negatives I associate with social media without the obvious positives which many platforms bring collectively and for me as an individual. For example, the irony that I will likely share this piece on three different accounts at a specific time of which I calculate most people will view it, is not lost on me.

There is however, more perceived downsides of the digital world which I would have preferably mentioned, but this essay of sorts is already too long. I’ll probably try and present the other side of the argument in another blog post in the near future. I hope you retweet this.    

Running is Badass. Period.

While flicking through an issue of Runners World recently I came across images of toned athletic specimens in perfect fitting gear. Beside the images of barely sweating bodies are finely tuned weight loss regimes, 10K training plans and endless lists of foods to avoid.

Although I often envy the kitted out gentlemen in these publications tI have accepted that look isn’t for me. It might be one day, but it isn’t now. This is of course all my decision and I could look amazing if I chose to. I’m just bidding my time before I eventually cut out the digestives from my diet.*

As a man with wide thighs, short legs and a 30-32″ waist, most of my cheap running gear is seemingly either too baggy or tight. This perhaps explaining the multitude of curious looks which I think I receive when running around Aberdeen**, which have been compounded by the recent discovery of a large hole in a pair of my shorts. Not a look I would recommend.

My overthinking mind tells me the looks I receive are either for that or the unusual running style I’ve failed to adapt over the last five years since a p*** in a race told me I was running wrong. To say I was annoyed was an understatement.

Luckily I have come to accept my miss match of risque fashion choices and running style as my own. Running through the city has never really bothered me and it is one of the sole activities which I actually don’t feel socially awkward doing.

Several acquaintances have however, voiced their concern about running in the city. Some prefer the treadmill because they feel self-conscious about being seen on the hoof. Some do run outdoors but will only run at dawn or dusk when there are less people, but more zombies roaming the streets.

Unfortunately, our social media dominated society has suffered memory loss of what is real anymore, searching for a level of perfection which will always be difficult to reach. When I pass someone jogging around Aberdeen instead of judging their running style or studying their image for blemishes of imperfection, I instantly consider them a badass.

If your still concerned about feeling too self-aware then consider these points: 1.) Who put that person in a position to judge a badass like you? 2.) If they are judging you its because they are probably jealous that your a badass you badass. 3.) They are probably sad they will never be a badass.

Quite often I participate in the same formulaic discussions with non-runners or joggers who are unable to hide their incredulity at my most recent activities. They say: “How far did you run today?”.

And I’ll reply: “Just 7K”

And they’ll go “Just 7K?!”, often in a high pitched voice filled with shock and undeserved awe, before making it sound like I make it look easy when the reality was that I was blowing my arse out for most of the run. Almost collapsing at traffic lights as the blood rushes to my head when I come to a halt.

There’s a reason why several of my recent routes have taken me past ARI, climbing Foresterhill Road while dodging buses and ambulances. Running should be as hard as you want it to be, but the faster among us (not me) are most definitely not finding the experience painless when they run a 5K in under 20 minutes.

I guess I want to get across a point to those who see running as a higher playing field which they will never reach. Lots of people will never be keen on running and that is in itself understandle. Running can hurt dude and can sometimes be pretty miserable if your like me and suffer bouts of athletes foot. Many non-runners are also badasses. I’m just stating that in my book putting on some shorts and trainers is a qualifying factor for becoming a badass.

Gyms seem to be very popular places to visit, but I’m personally not a fan. I can understand the appeal for the more dedicated and disciplined or those who don’t like the Scottish weather. I like my exercise outside and in nature, even if that involves running through Northfield, probably not Aberdeen’s equivalent to the Amazon Rainforest or the Alps.

Some see this form of painful physical activity as pointless without a clear purpose. This epitomised by a passer by in Dundee who asked me: “What are you running from?”. That deeply philosophical question keeping me up long into the wee hours of the next morning after I had descended the Law in a state of existential crisis. I hadn’t been able to give him a straight answer on the spot.

On another occasion in the City of Discovery I was offered a lift. A kind yet misplaced offer which clearly showed a lack of understanding around the idea of running for leisure.

If you have never ran before you may find jogging difficult. We all have to start somewhere and it is the recognition that getting over that first hurdle is the hardest part which is a driving force behind my continuous running. I fear starting out again after a period of rest would be too hard.

I guess I just wanted to get across the point that it doesn’t have to be all about fitness, weight or even aiming to look closer to what this society wrongly assumes is aesthetically pleasing. Rain or shine, my running obsession will always be about my mental wellbeing.

The endorphin rush and sense of minor achievement helping me flush out any lasting negativity for a moment. I love the freedom which comes with a pair of trainers and a complimation of old rock songs on Spotify. Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnston has become a recent favourite of mine.

My message is pretty simple. If you want to go for a run or to get fitter then why not try the great outdoors and get some Vitamin D (not assured in Aberdeen). If you prefer the gym there’s nothing wrong with that either. You’re probably still a badass.

If you choose the outdoor version then why not run a 10K at your own pace? Run a mile. Jog for five minutes and then stop. Whatever you do, I swear you’ll look badass.

*Slight hint of sarcasm here for anyone that missed it the first time round.

**Maybe I’m a bit of an egocentrist?

A Crash Related Ramble

Never do I feel so confident as when I’m going great guns on a bike or tearing down a technical hill side like an ungraceful mountain goat, just about managing to keep my balance. Those moments are blissfully rare insights into a fantasy life which could resemble total self-belief while anxiety remains absent.

Reality does however bite when I dismount my bike or fling of my trail shoes. With this in mind, I hold those blissful moments before with added value. Only now as I relapse through a period of being anxious about those very activities do I realise how significant a role they play in my quality of life.

A wide spectrum of situations will undoubtedly make different individuals anxious and for me personally there are many. Public speaking, meeting strangers, driving in the city and visiting the dentist to name just a few.

Many of my anxieties need to be overcome if I’m serious in the long term about becoming a journalist or to indeed enjoy a good quality of life. And in truth many of them have been overcome several times. But life isn’t that simple unfortunately. So often its a case of one step backwards to make two steps forward and I’ve come to accept that.

Feeling anxious about an activity you’ve held as a remedy to detrimental mental health though? That’s a bit tougher to accept.

For so long riding a bike has been the love hate relationship which I’ve always enjoyed coming back to. I can’t exactly pinpoint my first experience on two wheels, but I can almost create the images in my head of a chubby blonde haired four-year-old on a bike with oversized stabilisers.

Likely pushed along gently by an incredibly patient parent or grandparent until eventually reaching that pleasing moment when I could ride unassisted. Sounds of encouragement coming thick and fast as I wobbled along at a snail’s pace.

Fast forward 20 years and the bowl haircut is gone, replaced by an even more horrendous hair style. This time inflicted by yours truly in a late night cider fuelled haircut session with some full sized scissors and a sink full of damp hair.

On a more serious note, that came last week when my anxiety felt as out of control as my ever growing lockdown mullet. Cutting my hair, however poorly, felt like one of the only things I could control on a visual level.

My legs are also thankfully stronger nowadays and I’m able to propel myself along at a much faster pace, thanks in part to getting rid of the stabilisers. Unfortunately however, in another addition to a comedy of errors I discovered I maybe still needed them.

It had been a surprisingly warm June day after the week previous had proved there isn’t really a Scottish Spring weather wise. It just seems to jump straight from winter to summer. Must be a baptism of fire for those poor calves and lambs.

Anyway, on a pretty depressingly unproductive day last week I decided to brush of the cobwebs, aiming for a wee spin out to Linn O’Dee. I wanted to add a few mild evening miles to the cyclometer. I wanted something, however small, to show for when I lay my head on my pillow later that evening.

I sped up to the Linn O’Dee Bridge, brushing past a father and son with an arrogant greeting as I sped past. I felt like Bradley Wiggins if he had a shit hairdo and no side burns.

I felt so good I decided to extend my ride slightly to the Linn O’Quoich. A car park further down the road heading back east where the tarmac comes to an end.

The road was unsurprisingly devoid of traffic and pedestrians until I glanced a couple leaning on their grey vovlo after reaching the brow of a slight hill. On seeing a potential crowd to my incredible Tour de France cycling skills, I decided my gratification levels needed an unnecessary boost.

As an inconsistent user of Strava and social media in general, I feel like I don’t look for that gratification and justification quite enough. Even if I guiltily concluded recently that this very blog is also seemingly often geared towards lazily gaining those two elements.

And so I hit the accelerator, pummelling my way down the other side of the slight incline, imagining I was time trialling.

Suddenly I wasn’t peddling anymore. There was no saddle beneath my lycra cladded buttocks. I lay sprawled on the tarmac, my long suffering bike slightly mangled beside me as a sat like a startled ugly deer for a split second. I had crashed good and proper.

Regaining some sense quickly, I leapt to my feet praying that the nearby couple hadn’t seen my wee incident. There prayers weren’t answered.

“Are you alright?”, asked the woman as I followed her voice to see the concerned Volvo owners giving me discerning looks from a safe distance. Fuck.

My go to response was nervous humour as I tried to mount my poor bicycle with some urgency. I joked about the number one rule of crashing being to always crash with an audience, before quickly realising my front brakes were jammed.

While fixing it I noticed the blood pouring profusely from my left knee and found some solace in my right knee’s rare avoidance of harm in an accident. I was likely fairly lucky not to break anything. Especially after coming down at some speed.

Instead of the fulfilment I’d hoped I would have felt after my ride, I spent the rest of that evening cleaning my wounds and trying to figure out why I’d so unexpectedly ended up on the tarmac.

Only once previously had I bailed from a road bike. That occasion being seven years ago and occurring in an almost comically controlled and deliberate manner. A swinging tractor’s trailer resulting from a mistimed overtaking attempt forced me to fall into a soft verge in slow motion.

There hadn’t even been any bruises that day and it hadn’t at all discouraged me from going out and doing the same the next day. This time however, was different.

This time there had been no obvious risks. I was sure I hadn’t pulled my brakes and the accident had taken place on a fairly straightforward section of road. Perhaps a pine cone laid by an evil squirrel had been the culprit. Maybe my front brake had jammed before the crash, but this seemed difficult to explain if I hadn’t touched the lever.

A week on and my bruises are now healing well and I’ve realised this crash shouldn’t have really been that big a deal. Yet, I also realised I’m now worrying about my recurring cure for worry. That in itself is worrying!

Forgivable confusion from that last statement aside and I’ve now suitably recovered from my bruising encounter with the tarmac. I’ve left the bike and its buckled wheel alone for the moment and am focusing on the running.

After saying I would, I eventually made it up the mighty Morrone on Tuesday and plan to do the same tomorrow after laying low for the last few days.

Hopefully I’ll be back on the bike soon. Able to banish any nervousness which comes with riding it. Wish me luck!

 

 

Like Riding Through Treacle

It’s always difficult to get out of bed when you can actually hear the rain and wind battering your bedroom windows. Friday morning was no exception to this rule. Awaking early for my planned ride I thought, ‘it’s June, it can’t be that cold outside.’ Spoiler alert: it was pretty cold.

Not only was it unseasonably chilly, but cycling the strong northerly wind forecasted was also an ominous sign. I would be heading northwards back to Braemar after being dropped off in rural Perthshire.

Eventually hauling myself outside and into the car later than planned, my raynaud’s was already starting to kick in. On reaching the summit of Britain’s highest A-road I noticed with some anxiety that the temperature reading was hovering around a balmy 3 °C.

After being dropped off I was soon on my way. The first section of the 30 mile ride was deceptively easy. Me and my sexy lycra were sheltered from the wind with a kindly gradient to boot.

Even the first climb was relatively simple. I started to convince myself that it was going to take no time at all to cycle home as I powered up the incline like a heavy set Nairo Quintana. That being if the Colombian regularly barely digested three soggy Weetabix before a Tour de France stage. This was going to be a piece of piss.

On reaching a less sheltered section of the road this arrogance was deservedly dashed by a strong northerly wind rearing which finally reared its ugly head. I enjoy a cool breeze on a hot June day as much as the next guy. When its cold and I’m trying to ride a bike however, I’m not as much of a fan.

The long and winding road to Spittal of Glenshee ascends and descends repetitively and it was on these small bumps that I realised I should of sorted my lazy lockdown sleep pattern out. For all intent and purpose my legs felt like they were still snoozing.

Passing the remote village across the modern looking McThomas Bridge the ride became tougher still. On the approach to the steep Cairnwell Pass, a section of road known locally as the ‘Slide’ for the direct route it takes to the valley floor, there was now no shelter at all from the incessant headwind.

The road over this hill used to be infamous for being one of the toughest routes in Britain. The now retired Devil’s Elbow included a double hairpin which unsurprisingly  proved a challenge for many motorists before a newer road was completed in the 1960s.

Looking down at the hillside below where this sensational road formerly lay, I grinded away in my smallest ring like a persistent snail, trying to ignore the lactate acid screaming murder in my cold legs.

It was on this pain inducing incline that I began to do some thinking. Not an unusual pastime for me, but not a particular strong point of mine when there is a distraction such as palpable lower leg pain.

I started to draw some clumsy comparisons between life and my sudden realisation at that precise moment there was only one objective which I wanted to achieve. All I wanted to do in that moment was to keep turning the pedals. That was of a crucial importance if I wanted to reach the Ski Centre two kilometres up the road without coming to an anti- climatic halt. 

Keeping it relatively brief, there are two clear trains of thought which entered my head as I traversed the hillside in the rain and wind. The first is that life can be a real grind.

That patience and a persistent effort is likely to be key in achieving personal goals and finding a fulfilling happiness in your lifestyle, even if the process towards succeeding in these areas can be slow.  This can also definitely be discovered in another person’s happiness.

Secondly, I considered how it takes a sustained and often slowly building effort to change your views. To educate yourself or others. To constantly bat away any ignorant or outdated views that you may have held for a while, perhaps years.

As an individual and a wider society we should always aim to make progress. Even if that progress is difficult, painful and slow, perhaps often frustratingly so. There is always progress to be made.

Weaving across the now 10% gradient road I considered this second point especially and thought about how weak the old arguments of ‘how it wasn’t like that in my day’ are. Similar worn-out excuses equating to the mentality that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Everyone, no matter their age or experiences has the ability to change their views. Everyone should have the ability to arrive at a different less thought out conclusion than they have previously reached. Even a huge amount of patience, humility and effort.

Bike on the bike, it took me all but 17 minutes to reach the summit. My reward? The king of all eye hurting headwinds combined with icy rain. Cycling past the empty chairlifts of the ski centre I could barely keep my eyes open as icy rain blasted my frozen facial features.

Eventually I completed the descent into Braemar and this was where I experienced my highlight of the day, maybe the week. Earlier in the ride I’d been passed by a Co-op lorry and before entering the village I met the same green vehicle again, heading southbound this time.

The driver promptly flashed his lights at me, giving me a heart warming thumbs up as he sped past. This gesture was the perfect remedy to a life which has often recently felt similar to being in a social bubble, sporadically interrupted by a pandemonic social media feed.

During the current events an innocuous glance at my multiple digital feeds presents many voices in favour of positive change. However, many others seem to enjoy disregarding or shutting down the important debate and issues which have almost became all encompassing right now.

Obviously, these negative voices can often drown out the helpful and pragmatic voices of the moment. I guess, perhaps naively, that driver’s simple gesture helped restore some faith on humanity on a visual level. If that makes sense?

Black Lives Matter https://blacklivesmatter.com/