A really strange thing happened to me last week…
I had a great day.
That’s not the strange thing. I have many great days. The strange thing is coming a few lines below this one.
My great day started with my wife saying, “I know it’s raining but let’s go to Farmleigh anyway and maybe it will dry up”. Farmleigh is in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. It’s a beautiful old “Big House” that’s been restored and has great grounds, a duck pond, a cafe and little nook and cranny garden areas to explore if you’re a young one. The idea was to get the kids out and let them run about before dinner later on. She was right anyway, the day brightened up, and turned into a scorcher, and as we walked in a brass band were setting up on the grounds. They played Disney tunes and Guns and Roses and an eclectic mix of tunes. I spent the afternoon dancing with my little daughter in the grass and getting ice creams for the boys. Then we lay under a tree with the rest of the crowd, and as I lay there with my head on my wife’s lap with my daughter sitting on my belly and my two sons sitting eating ice cream and mercifully away from their technology for a few hours, the sun came through the trees on to my face and I thought; “Savour this moment Barry, this is about as good as it gets”.
Then the strange thing happened. In among the feelings and thoughts of happiness and warmth and contentment, a thought appeared. Actually, to call it a thought would not do it justice. It was an idea. Thoughts are easy to dismiss, but when you get an idea it tends to sit there and ferment until acted upon. Well, at least it does for me anyway. I can put it into words like this:
“Should maybe put this up on instagram”
Now let me get this straight. I’m a grown man. I’m 40 years old. I am not a teenager. And despite certain things that I have to my personality that my generously be called “quirks”, I am a relatively stable, mature, confident individual. Relatively.
So why do I feel the need to share this day with others? This was my day. Our day (more on OUR later). From what toxic well in my psyche did this idea spring?
Toxic. Poisoned. That’s the best explanation I can think of. I’ve been poisoned. Initially I didn’t think I was being poisoned. I thought I was sharing picture of my kids to my friends abroad and laughing at funny pictures. But that was 2008.
I didn’t share the picture. I took some photos. They’re not online. OUR day was kept sacrosanct. It wasn’t mine to share with strangers.
So why would I have posted it? We’re starting to understand that more and more as science begins to run the rule over Social Media. Much of it seems to stem from our own personal insecurities, and addiction seems to be a common term. The “likes” act as the “hit” and there’s an element of keeping up with the Joneses too. I mean, I had a good day, but what if my Facebook friend posts up his good day today? I want people to know that I had a good day too and didn’t just sit around my house.
There are no videos and emotional posts of the day you went shopping for new socks and then went home and flicked through Netflix.
I’m not a heavy user of Social Media anymore. I was. I don’t have facebook on my phone and haven’t had for the past few months. I do have instagram, and while I was patting myself on the back about uninstalling one, I was becoming a more prolific user of the other.
Watching the Descent Into Nudity in Real Time
I am about to sound like a horrible person.
Somehow, me and a couple of other people in a group message came across a guy with an instagram account. I think he had followed by friend and when they checked his profile, they shared it in the group for the rest of us to follow, and, to be honest, get a laugh out of. I don’t laugh anymore, I feel guilty and a little sad when I think about him. I want to emphasise that this person had no idea that we were looking, although his profile was public so presumably the views were welcome. We didn’t comment or anything like that, it was just a funny thing to stick in a message from time to time.
Initially, the photos were of the “fitness journey” type. The joke was that the guy was clearly very impressed with himself to the point of “hey check me out”, but that to anyone watching he was just a normal, kind of skinny guy. At first it was poses showing his progress on his arms, abs, and so on. All pretty normal for instagram as users of that platform will attest. But slowly, and at a pace that was easily perceivable, he began to lose control.
Every photo began to show a little more flesh. There was the post workout one where he’d be flexing, and the post shower one where he’d be in his towel, and the underwear one.
Now I hear you say, well, hold on Barry, why are you looking at pictures of scantily clad men on the internet? I will not make protestations as to my sexual preference in this regard. The fascination was with the high self opinion versus the unimpressive nature of the physique on display, and of the car-crash nature of the story. For those of you who haven’t been involved in weight training and fitness, I can understand your raised eyebrows. To us, it’s pretty normal to be impressed by someone gaining muscle. Or not, as in this case.
Why did he begin to get more naked? Was it the likes he was getting? “Hey, if you liked that, then check this out!” Or was it the lack of likes. “Hey, maybe if I add MORE nudity, the likes will go up”. In either case, the effect seems to me to be the same. Maybe alcoholics drink a full bottle because the half bottle felt great, or maybe they drink it because the half bottle didn’t do enough. Either way, they’re still drinking the bottle.
The towel got lower and lower. The underpants tighter. There was a photo one day, and I kid you not, of him in his underwear with an erection. Of course we thought this was hilarious. What the hell is wrong with this guy! The final straw was a fully nude shot with just his genitals covered by his hand, supposedly posted in homage to a Kim Kardashian post of the same time.
About a week after that, the profile was deleted. Perhaps he had an epiphany, or perhaps a friend made an intervention. Hopefully he came to his senses. Afterwards, we joked about how it only took about 2 months for him to go from check out my bicep to check out my cock. But these days I just think I watched a guy descend into a form of madness, and it doesn’t seem funny anymore.
But I can’t look down on him. I watched. Because in these situations there has to be a watcher, or a thousand watchers, or a million. And even the most sane of us has a form of his mania if we use social media regularly. If he’s on the extreme end of the scale, then hopefully you’re on the other end. But you’re still on the fucking scale.
So there’s another reason I am getting off Social Media. It makes me point and laugh. I don’t like myself when I do that.
And here’s another reason. I recognised that guy in myself, and I recognised him in people I know and like. I can tell when some of my friends are feeling insecure or lonely because of what they posted, not because they called me up and told me so.
Cosa Nostra (OUR thing)
My friend said to me that a good sign of a strong relationship is that there’s no sign of it on social media. Maybe that’s true. But it sounds a little simplified, and I doubt there’s a mutually exclusive relationship between a bad marriage and heavy social media usage. But what do I know? Maybe they really are that happy.
Someone else I know said “You wouldn’t know you were married” a while back. I’ve been married 14 years, but this guy’s point was that there’s no evidence of that online. My wife isn’t on social media and I don’t think I’ve ever shared a photo of us online. She would hate that anyway, but I don’t generally share photos of my kids online, and when I do I try not to share their faces or names.
I’ve broken that rule a few times. Particularly when my daughter was born and I took temporary leave of my senses. Gushing with emotion I wanted to scream it to the world, so I posted a photo of me and her in the hospital, and a few more since. I regret that. I’ll tell you why.
Facebook’s data collection is even more pervasive and pernicious than we previously assumed. We all said “Yeah I know they store my data but I’m just uploading stuff I want to upload”. What we didn’t (and still don’t fully) understand was that weren’t agreeing that Facebook could have a few photos of our birthdays, but we were signing up so that Facebook’s complex algorithms could construct a detailed mathematical profile of us. It is taking our photos and posts of course, but it’s also taking our movements, our moods, our reactions to certain online stimuli such as controversial articles, our sleep habits, our political views, how long it takes us to purchase something after we’ve been exposed to a certain article, our sexual preference, our opinions on almost everything, and it’s condensing them into a profile which it stores and sells to the highest bidder, or rather, any bidder who wants to post a facebook or instagram ad.
And it’s only starting to become multi-generational, and this worries me.
My child is entitled to privacy. Forgetting issues of online bullying or face to face bullying (imagine being a bullied teenager and your Dad puts up a post about how proud he is of the poem you wrote for him), what about your child’s right to anonymity? You begin to post stuff about them, and you’re taking that choice away before they get to choose it. I think that might have several effects.
Firstly, it’s not beyond the realms of imagination that when your son gets his first Facebook profile, the algorithm will already know he’s your kid. You’ve posted up his birthday- I mean literally the day of his birth, including your poor wife’s post labour hair and exhausted face (c’mon how are you not divorced already? Give her time to tie her hair back at least!)- his first trip to the doctor, his medical problems, what he got for his first birthday, and a lot of his childhood experiences.
Right now, Social Media makes a guess for me with nostalgia. I get links like “Back to the Past” with a picture of Transformers when it gets a hit, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it misses the mark. But it learns and soon I get more Transformers and no more TMNT.
When your child starts to get those ads, it will already know exactly when to hit the nostalgia button and what with. It will market nostalgic toys and movies to him to the tastes you’ve catered, and it will be able to map his future tastes based on that and millions of other users of the same age profile and so on. And what about if you put up his medical issues? In other words, some element of choice, of experience, or of stepping outside your comfort zone will be removed from him. Maybe forever.
Are you happy with that? Are you happy that the algorithm will know his face (facial recognition software is scarily advanced) and are you happy that Facebook has admitted to mood alteration in the wake of Cambridge Analytica (happy people buy less products)? The age old adage of the advertising industry is to create a need. Once you’ve created that need you can fill it with your product. Who knew they needed a Juicer until facebook told you Juice would cure cancer-diabetes-obesity-boweltrouble-lowtestosterone-makeyousexy? Kablamo. You have a Juicer. It’s the cure for everything until the next cure comes along.
I have a “joke” (the parentheses are my wife’s. Sorry, my “wife’s”. Ha ha, revenge!) that I say when I’m buying something. “Time to fill that void in my life with a product”. I’m usually only half joking when I use it.
What I’m asking is, are you happy that Facebook will have a profile of your son’s tastes, needs, wants, and insecurities? It will have them because you put them there. If he wants to put them there in the future of his own choice that’s one thing, but he’s well below the age of consent for that right now. And while we really don’t understand what Social Media is doing to our kids who have accounts, we know intuitively that it’s not good. If your daughter suffers from depression in the future, would you like her to be targeted based on her mood? Would you like her to remove progressively more clothing to make her feel better? It’s a quick way to likes?
I’m not a conspiracy theorist. We don’t have to make a massive leap to get there.
And look, if I’m your facebook friend, I don’t care where you went on Sunday with your family. I hope you had a good day, I really do, but I have to ask you why you think I give a shit. I’m not being cruel, I shouldn’t be looking, but I guess I’m asking why you’re doing it and why I’m doing it. Let’s grab a coffee and you can tell me instead.
What Are We Gonna do Now?
I’ve been phasing out my use of Social Media. I’ve removed myself from a lot of the groups on facebook. I thought I could use instagram as a “presence” but as of today, I began downloading the photos from my account and deleting them with a view to permanently closing my account. Facebook is more complex. I need an account as I have a business presence on there. So my account is now a shadow of its former self. I’m there, but my data is downloaded and it’ll be gone soon. I’m still not sure whether to keep the account or not. I may need it for something someday. However I won’t be active on it from herein except for some necessary housekeeping as I transfer my online stuff to new services and ideas.
So I thought about it and I decided that this blog will be where all that other stuff goes. My Facebook movie reviews (yes I have a series of them), my ramblings about rambling, my views on… well, anything. Why not have my own corner of the internet? Self managed, curated by me, and where no one has to put up with me if they don’t want to.
And I’ve created a forum- A FORUM- for my martial arts stuff. Yes A FORUM. Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999. Forums are so much better than Facebook groups which are a colossal pain in the hole. Maybe I should submit that as feedback to Facebook. “Colossal Pain in the Hole”. Please register there and engage in discussion. I’ll be posting technique videos, articles I’ve written and ones I like, tips and hints for training and a load of other stuff.
Would you rather go to a party with 1000 people staring at their phones or sit down and have a good conversation with 5 people?
I’m retaining my twitter account as a necessity. It seems to me the least invasive and easiest to fire and forget on when I want to share something out. But other than that, housekeeping aside, I’m done.
You can get me here firstname.lastname@example.org or on whatsapp.
See you later.