Sarah Buitendach Contributing editor at FM
Picture: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
Picture: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Last week, in a chat with Sarah Baxter for The Times of London, Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jason Miller observed of his boss: “The president has said he feels happier now than he’s been in some time. He’s said that not being on social media, and not being subject to the hateful echo chamber that social media too frequently becomes, has actually been good.” 

I didn’t see that coming, but since nothing makes sense any more anyway, I’m going to come straight out and say that I agree with The Donald.

Sure, he was officially nixed from Twitter and Facebook, and so he is coming at the topic from a unique vantage point, but there’s no denying that whether you’re a tangerine-tinged former Potus or a mom lying in bed flicking through Instagram, there is a growing argument for why none of us should be on social media at all.

It is making us feel awful.

A couple of days ago, I was whingeing to one of my mates about how grumpy I felt. He responded: “Whatever you do, don’t go on social media then — it’s a sewer. Honestly, so many inconsequential idiots.”

Well, I replied, I don’t need that in my life — and nor do you.

He agreed, but added that it’s a natural outlet for his righteous indignation. “I want to literally fight people in public. Like a cage fight. [On social media] they don’t use their brains and have no compassion. They are wilfully ignorant,” he said.

To have such a visceral and negative response to the amorphous environment of social media — the involvement in which is entirely voluntary anyway — seems entirely out of proportion.

Doesn’t it strike you that something has gone horribly wrong with the way we’re engaging with social media?  

Major problems like fake news or data theft aside, what I’m talking about is how the entire experience makes us feel.

There are, of course, a lot of opinions and studies on this topic.

On the one hand, there are those that argue that social media keeps us connected and vanquishes loneliness. There may be some validity in the point — especially during a pandemic, where we’ve been so isolated.

Though you’ve got to wonder whether “feeling connected” because you’ve got 25,000 Instagram followers is the same thing as actually being emotionally connected.

An exercise in self-abuse

A recent article from the UK’s Independent, on six ways that social media negatively affects your mental health, argued that your self-esteem, memory, attention span, mental health, sleep and actual real sense of connection could all be adversely affected by Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and the like.

I’m sure that wouldn’t surprise you. From Insta posts that leave you feeling fat, poor, boring or all of them combined, to being a voyeur on a nerve-shattering Twitter fight, we’ve all been there and got the crappy T-shirts.

And this doesn’t even begin to factor in doomscrolling. As this implies, the en vogue word describes the endless compulsive reading of bad news. It’s a particularly prevalent phenomenon with Covid-19 hovering about, but an article by Wired magazine reveals how this behaviour erodes our mental health.

“Doomscrolling will never actually stop the doom itself. Feeling informed can be a salve, but being overwhelmed by tragedy serves no purpose,” it said.

I left Twitter over two years ago and have never looked back. News comes from proper sources and people still forward me memes: I miss nothing of the filthy funnel of “thought leaders” and bots.

But I keep having to remind myself that my current anxiety-inducing vice of the moment, Instagram, is the biggest ruse of them all.

A thousand perfectly styled pics of someone’s thousand holidays a year don’t equal happiness. Those influencers were comp’d that meal and that face is definitely filtered.

Instagram’s passé cousin, Facebook, is now just a place where school mates rant about how bad SA has become since they emigrated. Or it’s a platform for extended family members to share flaky antivaxxer articles. No thanks.

You see where I am going with this; it’s time for me to ditch my other social media accounts too. I have weighed up the pros and cons. There are still books and magazines, news sites, Netflix, texting and, heaven help us, actually talking to people in the flesh.

So what would I miss were I to leave Instragam, say? A gratuitous sunset shot? I’ll look outside.

Perhaps you should consider the move too. You’ll thank me for it.​

* Buitendach is editor of the FM’s Life section

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