August 13, 2014

Is social media killing some of life’s magic?

We’ve been saying it for years, but really: things are changing around here. 

As individuals and as businesses, the digital world is growing exponentially and we’re continually chasing after it, like a carrot on a stick, hardly taking time to reflect on what’s happening around us. It’s a game in which we turn on our computers each morning to robotically participate in whatever the Internet throws at us, no questions asked. Every day is a new social playground, and let’s be honest here, it’s getting slightly exhausting. In the important words of Miley Cyrus: “we can’t stop. And we won’t stop.”

So I am going to have a reflective moment for once. I’ve been working in the “social media” arena for for 4 years now, and even 4 years ago it was all pretty baffling. It was novelty to launch a Facebook page for a brand, or to tweet a celebrity, or to post some photos to Facebook. We were excited, engaged, still living life to the full but totally loving the opportunity to connect with our pals and share our personal stories with the world. I always knew I wanted to work in the magazine world. Except, the magazines weren’t ready four years ago to hire a social media person – it didn’t really exist – I remember emailing a favourite magazine of mine and said “I want to sort out your social media. I want to create engaging things for your readers and echo your magazines values on the Internet”. I got a reply from the editor, saying it was a nice idea and all, but they weren’t ready for it. So I continued to work for brands (P&G, then Unilever for the likes of Dove, TONI&GUY, Diageo). I enjoyed it but I was still holding out for the magazine world to get with it. Four years after I sent that email, I got the job at a magazine (not the same one, but still), managing the social media. I was waiting for the eruption and it seemed to happen all at once, with a hundred things needing doing, launching, creating, developing. it’s an exciting (and scary) time to be in the industry. 

Now, in 2014, with “social media jobs” increasing “8 fold” (that’s 854% apparently), it is all around us. We are swimming it in. We are literally being hit over the head with a digital frying pan, every day and every night. Somethings got to give. Everyone wants a piece. 

The funny thing is, that as a generation, we are not passive in all of this. We are totally aware of what’s happening around us. If anything, we can see the flaws, because we are addicted to it but in a way that we don’t think is cool; we want digital downtime, we just don’t really know how. Only this morning, I was reading an interview in I-D magazine with Tyler who said “you know what sucks about everybody my age? Fucking social media. All these people only do shit so they can get likes or retweets or reblogs on Tumblr, all these kids are simple minded followers”. 

And he’s right, I thought. I wondered also if that is why we felt a deep deep sadness for Robin William’s death this week. He reminds us of a cooler, more old-school era of film, the iconic moments, the era of true talent, without Internet memes, viral blogs, or wanting retweets in return for money. That is why it was also totally heartbreaking to hear today that his daughter Zelda had to leave her social media channels because she was getting trolled by people on Twitter. Is raises the question: what the fuck is going on? When did the Internet get so messy, and when did people think that they could act like such lunatics online? This made me feel negative towards this new digital era too. That would never have happened ten years ago. People had more privacy. We would have simply mourned in the pub and gone home and watched Good Will Hunting, read the papers, written things down, and cried over a glass of wine instead of tweeting it.

I watched Annie Hall at the the Summer Screen event at Somerset House last night. A rom-com made in 1977 with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. Even then I found myself thinking how beautiful it all was. No phones. There’s a scene in which Annie’s character calls Alvy on his landline, because there’s a spider in the bathroom and she wants him to come and get rid of it. This, of course, is code for “I’m worried you have another woman over so I’m going to make up an excuse to see you”. Either way, it’s romantic and silly and lovely. There’s no Tinder, no texting, no tweeting. It’s just some really raw communication between the two of them, that probably made the whole millennial audience rather nostalgic for the old days. 

Is it time we genuinely took a step back, and trying to regain some magic?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

  • No question about it – social media is replacing the art of actual human interface. Not cool. Great writing.

  • I majored in communications, and have worked in the social media field on and off since I graduated from university, and this post resonated with me deeply. There was a time when friends had to force me to get on a computer because I was reading a book; now, it’s the other way around.
    I have a love-hate relationship with social media just as you described. I do feel very disengaged from real life as I sit in front of a computer. But at the same time, social media (which I fondly call “unsocial media”) has become a replacement for face-to-face interaction, which is quite sad, in my opinion.
    I don’t remember much about life 10 years ago (I was in my early teens), but I do remember that sharing personal stories online/blogging was a bit of a novelty. Now that the internet has become such an irreplaceable part of everyday life, that’s no longer the case. But I do think that online privacy is manageable to a certain degree. People have the ability to control what they post. We can choose what is too private vs. what we are comfortable sharing with the public. I believe that you can maintain a sense of privacy in that way. However, I see your point.
    Lovely and thought-provoking post as always! Cheers!

  • Anonymous Coward

    Hi Emma

    I’m a journalist, copywriter and occasional grammar trainer whose paid work has been eroded by social media. This is because: a) everything’s free on the internet; b) no one cares about apostrophes, sentence structure and proofreading; and c) everyone wants their 15 mins of fame.

    Logical answer is to become a paid social media specialist like you. I can write sexy tweets with the best of ’em but not sure I want to be chained to a phone 24/7 checking Twitter for my clients.

    You sum it up at the end of your About section. ” I’m basically always there.”

    I’d like this comment to be positive so.. social media is probably in its infancy and we humans will find ways of letting ourselves off the hook to have a life away from screens – at least for the weekend.

    Human beings are social animals. High tech needs high touch. It just isn’t healthy to live a virtual life in a constant state of artificial stimulation.

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