When we talk about our pet peeves with how people use social media, it usually seems to be a replica of the qualities we dislike in people generally. Those who have a propensity to be passive-aggressive or ignorant, or to over-share, attention-seek, whinge, and so on, are clearly much more likely to do so when armed with a keyboard. After all, when we at our most mediocre, calm and accepting we generally don’t take to social media, we simply go with the flow – we have nothing to say. As a consequence, social media seems to elicit heightened versions of our personalities, and therefore an excess of all of the things that we generally don’t like about other people. That’s what makes it a bit of an unbearable place at times.
There are two things that I know that, as a culture, British people do well (or do in excess). They like to complain, and they are excellent at, no – expected to be – self-deprecating. With this in mind, it is probably natural evolution that eventually social media, particular Twitter, in both its private and public spheres (you just know there’s a lot DMing going on), would feature people complaining about other people being smug or showing off. After all, how dare someone talk about the weight they’ve lost, the new job they got or the scores they got in their exams? Why would they boast about their new house, handbag or private education? We are British after all, we do not talk about our achievements, we talk about our failings! What is social media for if not to make others feel better about their lives by way of comparison with others?
Let’s get specific. About a year ago, I got into running. For years I had always thought that it was something that looked about as fun as standing on a plug, but it turns out, it’s actually quite enjoyable (not before you do it, or sometimes even during, but always when you get home afterwards). I wanted to share how awesome running was with other people, and I wanted to share the fact that I was doing it. (I wanted to yell it from the rooftops, but Twitter would do). I went from barely being able to run for a bus to being able to run 10k and part of me wanted to share that pride and sense of achievement. Was that so bad? Well, apparently, yes.
Over the last couple of months I’ve seen stirrings across social media – sneerings on Twitter, jibes on blogs and comments on Facebook. It turns out; some of us have been doing a bad thing. We have talked about things we enjoy, things that are good for us and things we have been doing well. WE DIDN’T GET THE MEMO. WE HAVE MADE OTHER PEOPLE LOOK BAD.
These initial stirrings have turned into outright, public expressions of frustration and anger for some. I have seen people complain about people – people like me – who like to talk about when they’ve been running, or to the gym. People, it seems, do not like hearing about how many miles a person has run, how hard their gym session was, or how they followed it with a Super Green Smoothie or Lentil and Cabbage Bake.
After seeing all of these complaints I started to feel self-conscious about my own use of social media. I don’t like to think of myself as gaily alienating my ‘followers’ or friends, and pissing them off with talk of my running or my diet, or instagrams of my trainers about to go out and pound the pavement. I created a separate account that I thought I would use for my gym/running tweets and then turned to Twitter for advice. There were a few people who agreed that they found it kind of annoying. There were a few people who said they found it motivating. They were a few people who said that “the reason people don’t like it is because they’re sat on the sofa shovelling crisps into their mouths and you’re making them feel bad about doing it.”
I pondered this. If it is the case, should I be doing it, or not doing it? One person pointed out “Running is a passion and a hobby of yours, why should you censor that? You wouldn’t stop talking about photography, or reading just because other people didn’t like it or weren’t interested in it?” Imagine that! “I’d like to share this great book I read but I don’t want to in case people don’t like reading, or they don’t think it’s a good use of time – or maybe they can’t read themselves.” And so I never used that other account. Because running is a thing I like to do. (That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally loll on the sofa and shove crisps into my mouth too). I love the idea that my enthusiasm for it might make other people go running too. And if people don’t like it, I guess they can just hit that unfollow button.
Whilst I accept that we might naturally cringe at people who continually use social media to whinge, over-share, cause drama or express ignorant or offensive opinions, I just can’t see the harm in an occasional exclamation of self-congratulation. In fact I would encourage it. I think generally (and especially women, I believe) we need to be kinder to ourselves and more supportive of others. So let’s use social media to share our runs, gym sessions, promotions, distinctions, trophies, health kicks, blog posts, businesses, etc. And let’s use social media to say well done to those who do.
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