I took a quick glance at facebook today, one of the many I do throughout the day and I found myself staring as I have done countless times before at the status of one of my friends who had just completed a 4.5km run and was very proudly advertising that fact to the world. Now don't get me wrong I have nothing in general against people who like to keep fit, you will for sure live far longer than I and I have complete respect for this type of self discipline and dedication. Well done;-)
But why oh why is everybody on the planet doing it, and why do all these people feel the need to share their most mundane fitness activities with others through multiple digital channels and social medias? I began to wonder why younger people have changed their attitudes so much in so little time and how digital has enabled and enforced this radical swing in mindset and attitude?
I guess the digital revolution plays only one part in this cultural shift and if I was an expert on societal change and generational differences there would be no need for me to write this post, but I'm not so in that case here goes...
I know for sure that I'm gonna take a whole bunch of shit for writing this blog from my work friends who are under 35, single and tech savvy, especially the ones who regularly post updates on their runs. I may even get arrested because the content is not typical of the kind of blog you see coming out of a design/tech company like Futurice. But let's face it I don't care because I'm rock and roll;-) I come from a generation of post war rebels, born to go against the status quo. A generation of kids that despised the hippy love movement of the 60's, crash landed at the end of that era and now had to deal with the harsh reality of 70’s working class northern Britain in all its glorious grimness and grey wet depression.
In those days, we certainly found many interesting ways to pass the time and believe me, getting fit and staying in shape did not figure highly on my to do list. The kids I hung around with were more interested in getting wasted than getting focused. They'd much prefer to get stoned than to get toned and they most definitely would prefer to be out on the town getting seen than to get lean.
I know for sure that all I aspired to as a 20 something was fame, fortune, drugs, girls and material possessions, lots of them, especially the girls bit;-) So there you go, now you all know about my misspent youth, my selfish urges and compulsive addictive behavior. But hey don't worry about me, I have no regrets, I actually had a lot of fun along the way. I guess only now, I’m starting to think about my fitness and whether I can fix the damage I may have done to my younger body in my crazy years.
OK, I may have been an exception, not everyone I knew shared my rebellious behavior, but it was however in this bad behavior that I fought my fight against something bigger. I was opting out of the system because I did not align with the values of that system and I wanted nothing to do with it. The punk rock movement in the late 70’s was the perfect example of this creative conflict against an out of date old world order and I was proud to have been one of its first loyal followers in the north of England. Punk gave us a voice on the UK’s social and economic depression at the time. It gave us weapons to fight our political war. It gave us strength in numbers and a sense of community. It provided us with a channel and vehicle for the angry mob. You could say it was the social media of the time except in musical form with safety pins and bondage trousers;-)
Now it’s a good question whether punk rock would have ever happened had there been Facebook and digital social media around in those days. These channels are our modern day tools for social commentary, a no holds barred media for somebody to talk to everybody about anything, sadly though, often without any use of the edit.
So this is my argument in question:
Instead of using these powerful channels to address societal issues and drive for positive global change we seem to have regrettably become victims of our own individual vanity and self-importance! We post pictures of the food we have eaten, upload videos of our cute pets, share our travel status and manage meticulously our own image through updates to our profile picture. I’m admitting guilt of this behavior myself. It was only a few days ago I posted a picture of the fish and chips I was about to indulge in during a trip (which I posted at the airport) to our London office.
But the latest trend and most curious of all in my view is our need to tell the whole world about our fitness and exercise achievements. What is this really all about? What are we trying to tell each other about ourselves? Did we talk about this stuff so much before the onset of health trackers and fitness apps?
If I was allowed to be maybe a little too simplistic here, I would synthesize from these insights that the reason for this shallow and self obsessed social commentary would be the clear lack of engagement and interest in deeper and more pressing local and global issues. Or maybe it's because we feel somehow powerless and unable to effect positive change?
It seems to me that a huge proportion of society (especially the young) have given up fighting for their rights and fighting for change. Now is this because there are no issues worth fighting for? Or is it because we have become too comfortable, apathetic and affluent, too fearful to rock the boat incase we lose all our nice first world luxuries? I’m afraid that the latter is probably the case as you cannot claim there are no issues in the world, at a time when there are multiple military conflicts, dramatic climate changes and ever increasing poverty, inequality and sickness.
So here is my recommendation:
For every self indulgent FB post you do, promise yourself you’ll also post something that has deeper meaning, something that challenges people to think a bit deeper and harder. How about we all get together in an attempt to raise the overall quality of our debates in social media. What if we harnessed the 1.3 billion uses of Facebook to do something collectively that changes the world forever for the better?
We are living through a digital revolution and have the ability to design and build the most powerful communication channels you could ever imagine. My only hope is that we learn how to use them.
Now that, I think would be punk rock!