The charity wristbands and nude calendars of the noughties have now been superseded by a new phenomenon: the month-long charitable campaign. These campaigns, seeking to raise funds and awareness for public health and the environment, fill our social media feeds — we cannot forget that it is Stoptober, Dressember or Veganuary and are constantly bombarded by requests from friends to sponsor their charitable endeavours. Social media is fundamental for charitable campaigns, and certainly brings about much good. Now, there is a new event to add to your diaries: Scroll-Free September. By going #scrollfree for a month, participants have the chance to reflect upon their social media usage and consider whether their relationship with social media is healthy.
There are different subsets of this campaign, such as the ‘Sleeping Dog’ in which participants cannot look at social media in their bedrooms and perhaps most challenging of all, the ‘Cold Turkey’: giving up personal social media accounts for thirty days. Importantly, the campaign high-lights just how pervasive social media is in our lives. It is a regular habit that affects our behavior and expectations. On average, we spend two hours every day scrolling and liking on social media; it therefore is important to question whether social media is an empowering platform, or a significant cause behind the mental health epidemic. Trending hashtags on Instagram provide a fascinating insight into the hopes and dreams of our media obsessed generation, with #love, #happy, and #cute amongst the most frequently posted. Having agonised over our outfit choice and attempted to look candid, we then embark upon the mammoth task of writing a cap-tion that is witty and original.
To have a beautiful Instagram account with a compelling story, we must embrace our inner artist and poet, and spend hours honing our curatorial skills. These filtered, posed and carefully selected photographs certainly present an idealised picture of life, and despite what the captions might suggest do not lead to individuals feeling beautiful, happy, or content. Instead, they give rise to feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and inadequacy. Whether we realise it or not, the number of likes we receive impacts our mood and feelings of self-worth; our passive scrolling (under the guise of keeping in contact with those close to us) leaves us with an intense sense of FOMO. Time with friends must now be proclaimed to all; the sight of groups of friends on their phones rather than interacting with each other is not unusual. Our relationships with others on social media are superficial, which causes a detrimental impact on our mental wellbeing. Instagram and other platforms therefore lead us to feel pressured to prove to others that we have an enviable life filled with good food, fashionable clothes, exotic holidays, and numerous friends.
Instagram is also changing our appetites and eating patterns, for better and for worse. It has been a successful platform for the promotion of healthy eating and igniting a love for fresh produce, instigating a craze of digital grazing. Breakfast trends such as avocado toast adorned with a sprinkling of chilli flakes and micro herbs or warming bowls of porridge topped with fresh fruit have all become immensely popular as a result of social media. Yet these picture-perfect meals associated with ‘clean eating’ have also fuelled a widespread unhealthy relationship with food. They have contributed to the rise of orthorexia, an obsession with ‘pure’ food which causes individuals to eat in an obsessive way and become fixated on a healthy diet. As a result, scrumptious cookies or gooey brownies are often perceived as a cardinal sin leading to feelings of guilt rather than enjoyable treats which are part of a healthy, balanced diet. Further to this, this obsession with beautiful presentation means that the plates photographed often far exceed recommended daily intakes of food, with this distorted perception of portions threatening overconsumption and inadvertent weight gain.
Social media has therefore created a narcissistic attitude which pervades our generation and our country. Even our charitable endeavours must now be broadcast everywhere; long gone are the days of quiet and selfless char-ity, now we must publicly promote our endeavours online and grow a moustache, wear dresses for a month, or run a marathon to give money. As the Dalai Lama wisely ob-served, ‘too much self-centred attitude brings isolation’ and this is sadly evident in the priorities cultivated by the prevalence of social media. Under various guises, social media leads us to become more and more focused upon ourselves and dissatisfied with our own lives. While it may have its benefits, social media can be damaging. Several high-profile figures including Simon Cowell and Elton John are going scroll-free for a month, and I too will be trying this digital detox. Why not take a break from social media or even challenge yourself to not check Facebook for a day as part of Scroll Free September?