"Did you know that the creators of the world's biggest social media apps don't let their own children use them? I cannot overemphasise how important it is to avoid overinvesting in social media. Human beings have existed for over six million years, whereas social media has been around for less than twenty. Social media must be seen as a helpful resource, not your entire reason and purpose for life".
It may have been the first week of a new year, but the past seven days will most certainly be remembered for the things that came to an end. In today's blog post, I'm asking whether this week could be the beginning of the end for social media's God-like power and control over literally billions of people's lives.
What a week it has been for social media! President Donald Trump's controversial presidency-via-Twitter came to an abrupt and extraordinary end, as the social media giant chose to permanently suspend his account and archive over 56,000 tweets that he has posted since 2009. It was also the week that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, announced that they were quitting social media, after receiving what newspapers quoted them as describing as an 'almost unsurvivable' amount of online abuse.
Separately, Sir David Attenborough, 94, announced that he would 'never' be returning to his Instagram account, which had amassed over 6.2 million followers earlier this year. And also this week, 'Keeping Up With The Kardashians' - a show which is perhaps the epitome of 21st century social media society - filmed it's final ever episode, after 13 years and over 260 episodes. Two of the show's stars - Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner - are in the 'top 10' of the most followed people on Instagram in the world, demonstrating why the Kardashian matriarch Kris Jenner is widely credited as being one of the most savvy and successful business people of the 21st century.
What do these events have to teach us about social media? Firstly, Donald Trump's Twitter ban demonstrates just how powerful social media owners have become, and just how much of our lives are now lived through the screen of a smartphone. Just think about it: social media executives have complete control over the information that billions of people have access to. They make billions from brands who pay them for your attention (and, let's not forget, your information) and they possess the power to - if they wanted to - influence election results, trigger revolutions, not to mention silence or amplify absolutely anybody they like. When we all invest so much of our time, energy and identity in their social media platforms, these social media executives become extraordinarily powerful people indeed. They are God-like in their ability to influence events, shape the news agenda, and control human behaviour. Whether you agree with their decision to ban Donald Trump from the platform or not, the ability of Twitter's executives to influence world affairs and history at the touch of one button should make every single one of us stop and think. These powerful people - with the help of their intelligent algorithms - are now able to influence billions of people every single day. When we all decide to invest all of our lives, time and data in their social media apps, they are able to take complete control of the information we are exposed to, the products we spend our money on, and the content we use for both entertainment and education.
And what about the end of the Kardashians, or Harry and Meghan's decision to leave social media of their own accord? These decisions give us a very timely and important reminder that there is life beyond social media. Indeed, it reminds us that the entirety of life is beyond social media! Social media is just one of many resources that modern day homo sapiens can use in order to create successful and fulfilling lives. In the same way that it one day came into existence less than twenty years ago, social media apps will all reach the end of their product life cycle and one day become just a distant memory or anecdote. This is why it is so important to see social media for what it is, and not over-invest in something that is nothing more than a business product designed to make business owners billions in advertising revenue!
Whilst the vast majority of Generation-Z cannot imagine a world without social media or the smartphone, it is important to keep in mind that social media is less than 20 years old, whereas our earliest ancestors began life on this planet over 6 million years ago. Contrary to popular opinion, there is a world beyond the smartphone screen!
It is fascinating to observe how, in just two decades, social media has become an entire generation's way-of-life and raison d'etre (purpose or reason for living). Today, there are millions of people utterly dependent on social media sites such as Instagram and TikTok as their primary source of identity, relationship, purpose, validation and - for the hundreds of thousands who have become overnight social media sensations - even income.
One U.S. study found that the typical teenager spends an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes a day staring at a screen. Assuming that the average teenager gets around 8 hours sleep, that means almost half of their waking hours are spent in front of a screen. Considering how new smartphones and social media are, we do not know what the long-term consequences - on mental health, communication skills, fulfilment and human behaviour - of this way of living will be. Will the daily barrage of facetuned and photoshopped bodies create a crisis of perfectionism or insecurity? Will the addictive and instant nature of online validation and gratification shorten attention spans or lower the quality of real-life relationships? Will next-day delivery, instant messaging and constantly swiping on dating apps end up having long-term consequences for our attention spans and ability to commit to people that nobody foresaw?
It is only when we step back and consider how social media is supposed to be a resource designed to help us live better lives, not an entire way-of-life and raison d'etre in itself, that we can reclaim our lives from the all-consuming, addictive and ultimately artificial world of smartphone apps.
At the end of the day, we have to remember that social media sites are businesses. They were not created for your benefit or to give you a new way of living your life - they were created to make their owner's money! Facebook, for example, has an annual income of $20 billion. These sites are advertising machines, designed to make money rather than to give your life meaning. Would you live your entire life inside the Argos catalogue? Would you outsource your validation, gratification and purpose in life to Tesco? No, of course you wouldn't! And, in the same way, we must see social media as the means to an end, rather than the end in itself!
Kris Jenner, whose children altogether have a total of over 750 million followers on Instagram alone, knows exactly what she's doing when it comes to social media. Kris, who has lived the overwhelming majority of her life in a world without social media, has harnessed the power of social media as an extraordinary marketing machine. Does Kris Jenner get her validation and purpose in life from a smartphone app that was created 10 years ago in San Francisco by a man called Kevin (Kevin Systrom co-founded Instagram in 2010, in San Francisco, California)? Of course she does not! Kris very cleverly uses social media as a business and marketing tool, and has made a billion-dollar family fortune as a result!
Would Kris' life collapse and come to an end if Instagram got shut down tomorrow? Of course it would not! As an intelligent and formidable businesswoman, Kris would simply find another vehicle and opportunity to keep earning her money that will fund her iconic lifestyle!
The social media bosses themselves know that their product (and remember, social media is just another business product) presents significant risks to human wellbeing. The late Steve Jobs famously limited his children's use of his own Apple products, telling the New York Times: 'We limit how much technology our kids use at home'. Bill and Melinda Gates did not let their children get a mobile phone until they turned 14, whilst Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel's children are not allowed more than 1 hour 30 minutes screen time a week.
The novelty of social media has now completely worn off, and living your entire life through your smartphone has now become a completely normal way of living. This is extraordinarily concerning and will create an epidemic of unhappiness for many years to come. Many young people cannot even imagine taking a day off social media, never mind exist in a world without it entirely. This is very beneficial to advertisers, who are making billions of dollars out of young people's dependency on social media for identity, validation and stimulation. But this is extraordinarily toxic for our young people's mental health, wellbeing and happiness as individuals. Whilst social media is undoubtedly a fantastic force-for-good that has transformed people's lives in the most amazing ways, we cannot shy away from warning about its addictive, all-consuming and dangerous elements as well.
All of this leads us to a very clear conclusion: social media is a very successful tool, but it can be toxic if you let it entirely take over your life. It must be seen as a beneficial resource, rather than as the sole purpose of your life. It should be just one of the many resources that you use in order to live a happy, successful and fulfilling life, rather than your sole source of identity, validation and purpose as a human being.
Most importantly, social media must be seen for what it is. It is not - and has never claimed to be - a realistic reflection of real life. It is serving a very specific purpose, which is to make money for it's owners. The next time you log onto social media, keep the faces - and the fortunes - of those owners in your mind. Only use their social media platforms if it genuinely serves you in a positive way. Do not become a slave to their intentionally addictive advertising machine!
Social media will not last forever. And social media will never bring you happiness, inner peace or fulfilment if you do not possess these things in the real world. As I have said, social media has been around for less than 20 years, whereas human beings have existed - in some form - for over 6 million. The world does not exist on social media. I cannot overemphasise how important it is not to overinvest in social media! Use social media to your advantage, but always maintain a healthy sense of perspective. Take complete responsibility for your use of social media, before an obsession with social media completely takes over your existence! Social media is a tool that should serve you; you should not be a tool serving the social media bosses and their multi-billion dollar advertisers!
As I always like to advise, try to be a little more 'Kris Jenner'! Don't see your social media as your source of validation or identity. Instead, see social media as a vehicle that can serve you and enhance the quality of your life...and size of your bank balance! Intelligently play the game, rather than getting trapped inside it!