I’m going to start this by saying the irony of what you are about to read, and on the media that you are about to read it, has not passed me by.
1991. Secondary school completed. University was beckoning for some, others were going straight into jobs. We said our excited goodbyes and promised to keep in touch.
We didn’t. Occasionally between graduating (or not in my case, but that’s for another day) building careers, meeting partners, relocating and moving on with our lives, there might have been the odd day when I wondered about the class of 91. Was Sharon married? Did Sue become a Doctor? Did Phil make it to Australia? 30 seconds and the thoughts were gone, replaced with whatever I was doing at the time.
2000. Friends Reunited launched. This was the Grandpappy of Social Media. Probably the first website that most non-techie’s used the internet for. It was a good few years before I joined. I wasn’t sure I wanted to upload a mug-shot and tell people I didn’t really know any more about what I was doing. I certainly wasn’t going to add people to my list who weren’t real friends at school. Why would I? Why would anyone? The concept was alien to us all. Once on board, I did quite like having a little look to see who was doing what and if time had been kind, but it wasn’t a daily task.
2019 Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, QQ, Twitch, TikTok, Anchor, Facecast, Pinterest, Lasso… there must be 100’s and they all want a piece. Vlogging, photos, videos’, opinion, advice. We’ve all become experts. Everyone telling everyone else how to.
Today we are measured on our likes, followers, audience and reach. I don’t only know that Sue became a doctor. I know her children, husband, interests, dogs name, hair colour, where she goes on holiday, what she has for tea, how she’s feeling, what her living room looks like, which paint she used when renovating, how tall her Yukka plant is….. Every post is accompanied by photos. Smiling, happy, amazing backdrops, luscious interiors but it’s not just Sue. It’s 349 Sue’s on Facebook. Add that to 864 Sue’s on Twitter and 511 Sue’s on Instagram and all of a sudden I’ve found that I know microscopic, intimate details about people who, in 1991 I said goodbye to forever. I’ve even had a situation where I was out for the day, said hello to someone who I thought I knew and who returned a confused expression. It was only later on in the day that I realised it was the grown-up child of one of the class of ’91, who didn’t know me at all.
If social media hadn’t taken off I often wonder what would be in my head instead? What could I have done with my time? Could I have mastered French? Would I have taken up marathon running? Would I have a more successful business? Would I have a hobby? I’ll never know if I keep reading about Sue’s obsession with interior design, and Sue will never know what she could have achieved if she hadn’t spent time reading my posts about my dog. Yes, I am as guilty as the next person for thinking Russell, who used to eat mud in 1985 and who I haven’t seen in 28 years, would have a happier day if he saw a picture of my pond.
The pressure on young people today must be astronomical. No longer can they come home from school, kick off their shoes and pick from the two TV channels whether to watch Grange Hill or Magpie. Now they come home and the school day continues to be measured in likes and comments from people who will still be there in their lives every single day via the internet once school is a distant memory. Photo’s manipulated and truths stretched every minute of every hour of every day. Liking and commenting has become homework for them. They feel pressured to join social networks or face social exclusion. The truth of the matter is that we, as parents, worry that our children will become social pariah’s if we don’t let them have accounts and feel the pressure on their behalf, but is it really the case? I can tell you, from experience, that this may turn out better than you expect.
I’m not saying there is no place for social media. It’s a fantastic tool for business, keeping in contact, family sharing photos, finding advice, meeting, shared interests and thousands of other things, but the time wasted now worrying about things that never used to even be a thing (Sue after 1991) can’t be good for anyone. It can’t be good for anyone and I know it’s contributing to the escalation in mental health and anxiety issues across all age groups. We all feel it. Take LinkedIn as a personal example for me. I look at “The Influencers” and worry that I don’t know enough. Should I be Vlogging (nobody needs to see that)? Should I be trying to write more meaningful posts? Agree?
The fact that the internet is so easily accessible for everyone isn’t helping. Next time you take a journey, count up how many pedestrians you see staring down at their phones, all looking at Sue’s wallpaper updates and watching videos of other people doing things.
It’s not going to go away.
I do know that I need to learn French and start with some exercise so maybe I’ll check back on Sue in a few weeks, rather than every day.