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Social Media – The 2020’s Dinner Guest

21st Jan 2020

Having started the year reading both ‘Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life’ by Katherine Ormerod* and by reading at length about both our Royal family and recent political events via numerous forms of social media, it’s made me reflect on what social media is and isn’t going to bring to the 2020’s ‘dinner party’. So let’s personify ‘social media’ into a dinner party guest and see where it takes us …..

First and foremost I think it shows us that it matters WHO we invite to our dinner party. If we invite a bunch of people that we don’t really know, that we feel either envious or annoyed by when we see what they are up to, are they the right people to bring along? Not sure about you but I don’t think I would be staying too late at that party! Sure its lovely to see when people we are invested in and care about are doing well but surrounding ourselves with a whole load of unknown influencers and their brand new teeth, filtered and photoshopped bodies and glamourous trips to Dubai, well, it’s not going to leave you feeling your best. However, if you were to invite along a group of people who made you laugh, made you think, had interesting conversations around topics that interested you, isn’t that the sort of dinner party where you would be thinking it would be worth staying late at?

Still, on the subject of the guest list….both Ormerod and my own recent observations have shown me that it’s possible to exist in social media in a bit of a bubble. So, following on from the point that a party is more fun if it’s with people that make us laugh, isn’t it also perhaps important at a dinner party to stimulate, debate and ensure there are people in the room who challenge us and make us question ourselves? Some of the best dinner parties I have been to have been those where we are putting the world to rights.

I’m fortunate enough to have one very good friend in my life whom I know will always push back and challenge me on an opinion they disagree with and it’s led to some of my favourite discussions. A party wouldn’t be a party without them there as well. If we take that one step further and look at the result, if we didn’t invite that friend we have, that we know doesn’t always see things the same way we do, what would we create? A party where we all think exactly the same as each other….where´s the fun in that? Where’s the challenge, where’s the push back? We all need some push back on our ideas, it’s what makes us grow and stops radicalisation of ideas. Without that person, we start to exist in exactly what I mention above, a social media ‘bubble’ where arguably we see the world through the lens we (or more worryingly, the accounts we follow) have chosen to. For example, if all I do is follow accounts that hate cheese then slowly but surely that is going to influence my opinion of cheese, even if it was something I perhaps quite liked, or was ambivalent about. But if I followed a more balanced range of accounts, as a result my thoughts would be better informed and arguably less biased.

Moving on, what do guests bring to the party? Ideally you aren’t looking for 7 guests all to show up with a bottle of red wine…. (well…….!) Perhaps what would be better is for one to bring flowers, one to bring wine, one to bring chocolates etc. The point I’m trying to make here is, what we want on our social media is surely a variety of things that we enjoy, so if that’s travel, food, books, fashion etc we surely want to follow a balance of all of these in order to get the best experience rather than just 70 accounts focused solely on shoes, which at best would leave us feeling perhaps a bit overwhelmed but at worst could arguably affect our perceptions on the world and lead us into a skewed reality where shoes and the type of shoes we wear become the most important thing in it.

Lastly, I think what I have taken from both Ormerod’s book and from my recent observations on social media in general is that participation is key. Who wants a dinner party guest that rocks up, eats all your food, drinks all your wine but doesn’t say a word? Think about a situation where that may have been you – where you haven’t participated in a chat – have you reflected afterwards and wished you had? Why didn’t you participate – were you intimidated? Uninterested? Feeling isolated or left out? Now turn that on its head and look at your social media accounts. When we scroll or ‘lurk’*, what does that bring to our party? Feelings of isolation? Of envy? Of disassociation? Whereas when we are proactive and get involved, how much better do we feel? How much of a high do we leave a party on when we have made someone laugh, when we have made someone smile with praise or a compliment?

The old adage ‘it’s nice to be nice’ has arguably never been more relevant than in the 2020s. And so, I’m going to leave you here with a challenge to see out the month. Controversially to most I’m not going to say leave your social media accounts at the door – far from it. I’m a big fan of the digital world and what it can ‘bring to our party’ so long as it’s used well. So, this month when you log on, DON’T LURK! That’s my challenge to you. Put yourself out there and be kind. If you find yourself feeling envious or isolated, instead of scrolling on by, like and comment on that exact post with something positive, something nice and then reflect on how that’s made you feel and how it will make them feel when they read it.

Use social media but use it wisely, use it kindly and because social media, when used correctly, can offer us a plethora of opportunities……always, always bring your dancing shoes to the party …… til next time……..

Lucy Howard, January 2020

*Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life, Katherine Ormerod

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