A thought experiment/rambling thoughts of the current state of the world and my space in it.
Seriously, I’m not even sure why I’m posting this.
My name is Gordon and I am a contradiction. Like many of you I am aware of the world around me through the media that I survey. I believe climate change is real and that we all need to do something about it. I believe that the rich and powerful are only growing more rich, more powerful, and more arrogant in their beliefs, and that is very much not a good thing.
This is not a post about Trump/Johnson or their ilk, I do not want to talk about entitled rich boys who bluster and lie and care for nothing. These are broken men in positions of power and yet somehow I am partly responsible for letting that happen.
Climate change I can impact in small ways. Like the man who planted a tree a day and rejuvenated acres of desert to forest, the decisions I make everyday have an impact. I eschew reusable coffee cups and bring my own. I have never used straws but now request them to be absent from my drinks. I recycle, I renew, I make concerted efforts to step away from the consumerism train that is ohhh so easy to find oneself riding.
There are other examples of course, small steps taken in the hope that they will collate and gather with others and somehow make a difference, even though we aren’t sure exactly what that difference will be.
So, that’s me. But what of the powerful, the elected, the rich white men who refuse to dirty their hands? How do we call them to account? Extinction Rebellion are on the right path, our governments need to step up and lead, but that requires those rich white men to change habits that would impact them, that would weaken the power they so so desperately crave, not to mention reduce the riches they are accumulating. Regardless, protests are building momentum and the early signs of change are starting to appear.
I return to the personal, how do I balance this all out?
I walk past two large chain coffee outlets on my way to work each morning; Starbucks and Cafe Nero. Which is better to get coffee from? I don’t mean which makes the better coffee (subjectivity be damned) but of them which is the company that is trying to do good in the world, that is holding itself accountable for the things it can control. I’ll bring my reusable cup but what are they doing to contribute to this and, perhaps more crucially, how much of what they say they care about is true?
I recently wrote about my internal switherings and lack of moral standing when it came to getting a new iPhone which, it turns out, was simply a way for me to weirdly justify a purchase of want over need. I’ve spent many years always getting the last shiny iPhone and all the fancy new features which, inevitably, I only really get to grips with towards the end of the renewal cycle just in time to get yet another new shiny model dangled in front of me.
New hardware is one thing, but each year and each upgrade, I’ve experienced the same set of emotions; a building excitement of the new shiny iPhone and, as all I tend to do is shift the software over, the slow burning realisation that it’s just the same that I had been using day to day, the same apps and experiences, just with a new case, or tweak to the battery life.
But let’s look more closely at what’s held within that smartphone, not just the parts and pieces and thingymejigs that Apple are so fond of soft-porning at us, but the apps themselves. I find myself sucked in to the usual social media apps purely because of the number of people I know who use them, so it makes sense for me to use them as well to make connections and have more joyous shared experiences, right?. After all, that’s what the Facebooks of our world promise.
And yet despite all those clever adverts and seemingly well placed intentions it is clearer and clearer that as our society disintegrates and crumbles into the powerful (rich) and the weak (poor), so these apps are conversely growing, merging and becoming so large that, within the spaces they create, they are now facilitating the very splintering of society that the early promise of social networks railed against, nay, promised it would counter.
Perhaps the phrase dumbing down is apt here as the further we delve into social media models and interactions, so we find our own usage of them has driven the problems we see today. News is now a snippet, a word bite with little exposition or explanation. Nuance takes on the weird vagueness of a word from ye olden days that was once common place but is now that thing that used to happen, you know, back then when we used to be patient enough to read a little more on a subject in a quest to better understand it. And today? Well, today we have beliefs and movements that are built on the back of ambiguously worded tweets and to hell with things like facts and proof. Both left and right wings create circular logics which expand and bloom and quickly lose all shape and semblance of their origin.
And it’s in our social media that these things play out day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute and then, before we know it, Brexit day is here and no-one on either side of the political landscape really knows what to do or even how we got to precisely where ended up and, rather than trying to figure it out, simply offer us more soundbites, more vaguely worded morsels (always a giveaway when they use big words), and ever more deliberately oblique informati… (godammit they’ve gotten to me as well), LIES, LIES, LIES.
And behind it all, the entitled, arrogant, rich and powerful white men nod and smirk then return to their private clubs and large houses while everyone else goes home to whatever debt laden building they occupy and wonder how they will make their credit card payments this month and, with all this raging anxiety, look for a distraction and pick up their smartphones….
And lo, they cry CONSPIRACY!
I’m not buying that though, and not just because I’m trying to wean myself of the trends of rampant consumerism…
No, I’m not saying this was all planned out – it would be a massive feat to socially engineer the populace thus, not to mention get the IT companies to play along – and given where we are today, with rising right-wing movements across Europe not to mention actually in power in the UK and USA, and sometimes it’s all you can do not to just stand and gawp as it all unfolds. And then you catch yourself and realise you need to try and do something, anything to help, if even only for your own sanity.
And so you say NO I do not need a plastic straw, and YES I brought my own refillable water bottle.
It were ever thus of course, and no doubt historians are all quietly murmuring along to the strains of a Reich-this, and an empire that. Mankind has always imploded at various points in time, so perhaps it all just feels the more unexpected and fervoured because, as well as the divisions that we have created, we are also simultaneously destroying the very planet on which we depend.
And lo, the end is nigh!!
Ahhh, but is it? As ever civilisation will take a hit and move on and once more find balance and 100 years later the ancestors of those self-same murmuring historians will look back and marvel at the decisions and events that played out and ended up with that particular buffoon as Prime Minister of the UK. Yet the larger fear is that in a few hundred years there will be no historians around to document the end of civilisation at all as the planet will have had its share of us and the remaining humans will be finding out that they are no longer the dominant species on the planet.
And having said all that there is, of course, the realisation that my own little social media bubbles are part of the problem. The polarising views we are seeing are only from those who are making all the noise, the vast majority of people remain ambivalent at best, looking on at various world events with a sense of detachment. Brexit is happening, but it’s happening over there, and with those people, none of whom we trust regardless of which side they purport to be on. Trump is real but only the brashest voices stand up to oppose him and so the cycle continues with voices becoming louder and louder, shriller and shriller, and it’s still just rich white men acting like the little spoiled boys they are. Why shouldn’t they, there are no consequences for them, after all.
So let’s play a game. Single use plastics are the bane of the modern natural world so we are cutting down our use of them. Climate change achievement unlocked. But what of the bane of the modern intellectual world, those flickering screens we scroll and scroll and scroll day after day, hour after hour to distract us from the growing list of horrors perpetuated from behind locked doors by rich white men?
I use Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp everyday. All three are owned by the same company, a company which has gotten shadier and shadier in spite of being hauled in-front of an (incompetent) panel of American politicians, as well as having had some extraordinary revelations on their working practices revealed to the world; yet it continues to grow.
With all of that in the background, and half a mind on reducing the amount of time I spend on my phone/social media, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to ditch all three.
Let’s start with the big one, the main hub of Facebook. I find it most useful for learning about local events and gigs, occasionally for organising an event, and for wishing people Happy Birthday.
If I wasn’t on Facebook the thing I’d miss the most would be the events. Facebook do have a separate app called Local for those though, but obviously that still falls into the world of Facebook which would defeat the purpose here. Equally it can be fun to see someone else you know is also attending and I’ve used that a few times to get together with people at events that I would’ve missed otherwise.
Everything else I do with Facebook, the groups I’m a member of, the memes I share, are all very easily dropped as the value to me is low. That scrolling feed of images and videos is a distraction and little more.
WhatsApp is the main form of communication with all but one of my friends. We have a family chat on which we are regaled with videos of my niece, arrange family get-togethers, and make jokes about jobbies to annoy my Mum (the wonder that is the poo emoji truly knows no bounds!). I have a few other group chats on there which all serve a specific purpose and of all the Facebook owned apps I think this is the one I’d miss the most. Now, if I could get everyone else I know to switch to something else (Telegram perhaps) then that would be great, but the friction involved means it is highly unlikely to happen.
Of the triumvirate, Instagram is the one I enjoy the most. I have long enjoyed dabbling in photography and it’s an easy outlet for the creative juices. It also still remains (that damned non-chronological ordered feed aside) the simplest to interact with and has managed to retain a base level of good feel to it. I don’t bother with Stories all that much but do enjoy scrolling through the images shared.
Ditching Instagram would be the hardest of the three on a personal level then, and I guess I can look to a return to Flickr as a go to place.
But what of it? Pull the plug and revel in the smug self-satisfaction of the entitled? After all, I am an affluent, middle-aged white man, it is my place in this world to do little and reward myself. On the flip side they say it is never too late to change.
And look at where I am now, pontificating over which of the many apps I have installed on my expensive new smartphone, is the least evil. I am Gordon’s sudden realisation of a first world problem.
Yet all of this, ALL OF THIS, is within the bubble I have created for myself, and yes it is a first world problem which means I need to be part of the solution. Yet I cannot speak to the current drug tendencies of teenagers because there is no way for me to know that without extending my bubble. Female genital mutilation? Aside from knowing it happens and is barbaric and awful, what else can I add to that conversation? Abortion, rape, religious prosecution, racial harassment, none of these things am I qualified to speak to.
And yet they are there, in my social media, slipping past from time to time. I have opinions and thoughts but firing MORE of those into social media, well, isn’t that what got us into this damn mess in the first place?
I am fully aware that removing myself, one individual, from social media is a fallacy, a drop in the ocean, it would barely register to any other than those listed as Friends and even then, how many would notice? No no, I am not looking for a self-pitying reassurance that I would be missed, far from it. Instead I am questioning my own inner conflicts, wondering when a stronger voice will take hold and push me to one side or another.
On the one hand I hold my efforts to be mindful of commercialism, my recycling/reusing attempts, and a desire to leave this world better than when I left it (or at least my teeny tiny part of it), and on the other the mind-numbing distraction of the social media which in turn has helped educate me about the need to be mindful of commercialism, that has shown how less is more.
It remains a quandary and I wonder if I’m just not strong enough to take a stand, too scared to turn off my social media feeds and hope that people will still reach out to me. They might, if I announce it, but I have to presume that over time, without the immediacy and front-and-centre attention spots that social media offer, I would slowly fade away like a photo of Marty McFly.
I look wonder what is coming, what the next news report will bring, and I find that that too scares me. It doesn’t feel like this cycle is close to ending, it is still building to a crescendo and hope is all that gives me a sense of lose purpose, scanning the horizon for any sense of a new direction or, perhaps, a knight in shining armour (likely a person who does not identify as male, riding what may be loosely defined as a unicorn, no?).
I’m old enough to know that knight is not coming. I know we got ourselves into this mess and as a single humanity we need to find a way out of it, or to at least reverse the direction in the hope (there’s that word again) of finding some perspective, of returning some balance in the midst of all this upheaval. I’m not hankering for a return to how things were but I deeply desire a future that is different from the one that is looming towards where I stand, helpless and seemingly powerless to do anything except stand and watch whilst it engulfs me.
Until then, I’ll need Facebook to make sure everyone I know is safe and to keep up with the latest news on Brexit, as well as the latest video of a dog trying to catch its own tail with hilarious consequences that end up, after 4 minutes and 56 seconds of rather dull footage being neither hilarious nor consequential in the slightest and with that disappointment I’ll let the next video play in the hope it brings sweet relief and I bury my head deeper and deeper in the social desert.
Until then, I will recycle and re-use, I will buy less and fight the desires of want over need. I will try and spread love and understanding and consideration, I will try and speak up to counter racism, sexism, and all other forms of prejudice should I see them. I will make mistakes but I will try and be better. I will share all of this on Twitter to help amplify the voices of those I support.
Until then, I will bide my time by walking in the woods and trying to capture the perfect image of sunlight through the trees that will look wonderful with the Clarendon filter applied when I post it to Instagram.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll send a poo emoji message to my Mum.
Such are the end of times.
At least I will go out laughing.