I am having a bunch of feels about the media hysteria surrounding the very meta denouncement of social media by the instafamous influencer Essena O’Neill.
Ladies and Gentlemen, social media is not actually an accurate representation of real life. #slowclap #facepalm
That might be clear to us ‘digital immigrants’ whose brains developed in an era when OneTel was the alternative telco to have your first mobile phone with. For Generation ‘Screenager’, who will grow up swiping screens before they can wipe their own bums, being able to ‘read’ digital media and discern it’s content remains a weakness.
They might be able to hack into their school’s website to change their assessment marks, but can they avoid the psychological trappings of FoMO, negative comparisons, vanity metrics or Infobesity? Can they detect the carefully curated, perfectly contrived visual images and brand messages designed to hit a sweet spot between aspiration and jealousy?
The thing is, you don’t need to quit social media to use if positively. Just like you don’t need to quit sugar to enjoy a healthy diet.
Like with food you benefit from a healthy balanced 'digital diet', a relationship to your online world that is sustainable and functional, and to be able to use technology as a tool to maximise your wellbeing. We all need a bit of what I call Digital Nutrition.
Digital Nutrition isn’t about quitting social, or crash dieting with enforced detoxes and disconnection. It’s about recognising that what we consume with devices impacts our thoughts and feelings, our values and our identity. If you are what you eat, then you also are what you scroll through.
Just as many of the social media celebrities are engineered to project accidentally-on-purpose perfection, so too can we detect and select our own menu of digital digestables. We don’t have to eat at McBikiniModels or be force fed 9 hours a day. We have control and choices -- over 1.6 million choices when it comes to the apps we download alone. We need to teach kids explicitly how to regulate their emotions, and not hope they just catch on to how their parents do it.
We’d benefit more from virtual shopping in the health food section and reading the nutritional labels* and warnings on our online activities. Parents and young people need to be aware of the ways tech can impact their basic cognitive patterns and to mediate use and set up (and then enforce) healthy habits – the American Academy of Paediatrics just recognised that ‘screen time’ is outdated as a measure for what healthy technology use is. Their tips for parents are a good start for thinking about how to design a lifestyle where our use of technology is a tool not a trap.
We need to get better at reading information and discerning how to apply it. We need to be able to watch Essena’s videos and understand she’s obviously under lots of pressure, and is slightly unhinged. She’s going through her ‘end of teens’ identity crisis with almost a million people watching via her apparently dormant Instagram account. Her Let’s Be Game Changers website reads like someone who has just done the Landmark Forum, hyped-up on possibility and the high on epiphanies about the way the world works (#inspo quotes won’t save you). She’s discovering Amanda Palmer, TED talks and veganism (she'll discover The Thug Kitchen in 3, 2, 1...) the way I discovered Tori Amos, the personal ad columns in the back of 3D world and the Hare Krishnas. My discoveries are recorded in volumes of hand-written journals that no one has read; hers are splashed online and scrutinized in minutiae. We're no different, except for amplification.
Essena and her fans/followers are working out what Tech Ethicist David Polgar calls the ‘Kafka vs Kardashian dilemma’ and how to sift through all the flavours of online choices and avoid the mental obsesity living in such a rapid fire information age. Choice is so central to our freedom, yet guidance so important to the development of young people’s identity. How do elevate the conversations and application of technology while leaving room for LOLcatz? Well you can start by getting yourself the Kard Block app and trying these screensavers as reminders to mediate your mindless scrolling.
Want to delve deeper into how all this digital saturation is impacting contemporary communities and culture without the bullshit and fear? Here's some ideas on how:
- Check out Douglas Rushkoff’s superb 2014 documentary Generation Like and see how the thrill of social connection drives young people to share and follow.
- Get a deeper more nuanced perspective read Hector Carral’s piece on why we need to Stop Saying Technology is Causing Social Isolation.
- Explore the anthropological angles in the work of WishCrys on how influence is gained and used online.
- Participate in the discussions for Media Literacy Week
- Get my newsletter and yes, even follow DigiNutriton on Instagram
So, thanks to Essena for the videos and debate. I sent her a 3 page handwritten letter to introduce myself and Digital Nutrition, I hope she reads it and gets the support (mostly emotional) she deserves. Offline, in real life.
* Ok, so these don’t actually exist yet, but image that they did! How cool would it be to know what the carbs, proteins, minerals etc that an online activity in a particular dosage would provide, so we could mediate our usage in order to stay cognitively and emotionally healthy?