Chances are you’ll be able to recollect exactly what you were doing last Wednesday, when a blackout that can only be described as a social media Armageddon hit a few of our favorite Internet platforms, namely Facebook and Instagram. The outage lasted about 24 hours; the longest recorded in the company’s history and sent millions of people into a mass frenzy. Users refreshed their pages dozens of times, reset their phones and even took to Twitter to do what they couldn’t do Instagram and Facebook, post an update, and naturally the large majority of those updates where about Instagram and Facebook being down.
It was if the “world” was experiencing an online apocalyptic event that permeated into the offline lives of the millions of users of Instagram and Facebook, who seemingly could not carry on with their daily lives because their daily routine was so infused with scrolling the vast feeds of IG and FB. The “memesphere” was alit with posts; humorously depicting the different stages users were going through, from not being able to share what they were eating,
(one person went so far as to write on their dinner receipt, “Facebook is down but at least you saw what I had for dinner.”),
to saddened faces with blank stares, wondering what they would do with themselves until the sites were back up,
and even one that showed us back in the caveman era, just seven hours into the outage. Funny as they may be, it got me thinking about the implications of our actions during this outage.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram just as much as anyone and I’m active on it a few hours of the day, whether it’s to upload a post, story, or direct people to a new blog post on my website, or just to like other content and engage with other users, I am definitely an avid user of the platform. So when I couldn’t refresh my feed Wednesday afternoon or post any stories, I thought, maybe my Wi-Fi was acting up, not an uncommon occurrence in South Africa, or that the app or my phone needed to be refreshed.
Realizing that it wasn’t any of the above issues, I searched Google to see if others were experiencing the same problems and sure enough they were and I saw that not only IG was down, but Facebook as well. I wasn’t pressed about the latter since I don’t have Facebook and now knowing that there was a widespread issue with the app and that it wouldn’t be back to normal for a few hours, I moved on to other things.
I was working on a blog post for First Thursdays in Cape Town so I went back to writing that, checked in with my friend Ashley(if you’re ever in Cape Town and need a photographer and videographer, message him) on the progress of the footage we shot for the event that he’s editing, read some news, talked to some other friends via Whatsapp (Whatsapp was also down for some users), cooked supper, watched a film and focused on it entirely without scrolling through my IG feed, worked on a new poem and then went to bed. To me, the outage wasn’t that big of a deal and it’s not as if I have a job that’s solely dependent on this one platform, or Facebook for that matter and that by it being down, I was unable to work and make money. I checked the app a couple more times later that evening, saw that it was down still and went to bed.
Instagram was back up and running the following morning, with everything seemingly back to normal. Yet, as I was checking my feed and stories, I was inundated with posts, (mostly from IG friends and other profiles in the U.S who are six-nine hours behind me, based on their time zone) and some in Europe, who had apparently gone bonkers because they couldn’t access the full functionality of the apps. From pointlessly refreshing their phones, to jokes about not knowing what to do with their time now that the apps were down, to growing annoyance that the apps had continued to stay down so long, people were in frenzy! I wondered where the unrealistic expectation that an application that essentially runs at the mercy of the internet, and from time to time will need to go through updates and configurations that will effect it’s usage, would be free of the occasional hiccup? Furthermore, why were people displaying such addictive behaviour, i.e checking it every few minutes even though they knew it was still down, instead of just focusing their energy and time elsewhere?
When the apps did finally start working again, it was as if they were able to breathe normally and function again. They were no longer in the “dark ages”, but were now able to resume an activity that has become ingrained in their daily routines. I had planned to just make an IG post on my take on the apps being down- that it wasn’t that dire of an event and that I didn’t even mind it being down because of the end of day, it’s still just social media, and unless your business runs completely from it, it isn’t that big of a deal. That is until a friend, Jerry, who happens to be the founder and host of the Pointnoirshow podcast that highlights and celebrates the travels of men of color and inspires more to travel, responded back to a chat we were having, with, “Happy resurrection Thursday.
Ironically enough, we probably would have never communicated or met if it wasn’t for social media, as he reached out to me via IG to see if I wanted to be featured on his show. I just felt like that term “resurrection Thursday” was a bit drastic, mostly due to the aforementioned about it still being social media at the end of the day and the only ones that need to really break a sweat are the ones who have some type of business on it. We went into a lengthy conversation that I’ll cover in another post, but Jerry is more of the mindset that “most people engage in an almost additive way with this stuff. Which is…normal. It’s ok.”
I know that social media has irrevocably changed the way we interact with one another, and even according to Jerry, “this is the least engaged with tech we will ever be.” I’m not against technology or the advancing integration of the internet and social media into our everyday lives, I’m just of a mentality that a proper balance needs to be struck, one that is more about what’s happening in real time and the people that you know in real life, because by and large, we don’t actually “know anyone” on social media, we just “know of them” and what they choose to present to the world, which is a very important distinction to make.
Perhaps I romanticize the days when my friends and I would just go out to have a good time, not bothered with recording from start to finish how our outing went, not taking a million and one selfies, focusing on the right angles and lighting and then spending time that we could be using to engage with one another, on apps like Snapchat (which I referred to for many years as Chatsnap), Instagram and the like, uploading our movements for people thousands of miles away to see, so they could like, comment and reshare if they feel so inclined. For me, I saw the outage as an opportunity to actually think about the amount of time we spend on social media and how invested we are in it and if it’s actually a productive use of our time. Perhaps even use that time to spend more time outside, engaging with people and things that are immediately around us. On the flip side of that though, Jerry points(oh yess, for the pun!) out that, “the ‘go outside and play’ audience is smaller than you might think…takes a very aware person, that’s tough for people.” That made me wonder if our heavy focus on social media and being connected all the time has affected our want to be outside more, to live more in the moment rather than being focused on connections, however meaningful they may be, that our not in our immediate real physical everyday lives.
Even Cardi B tweeted a few days ago that she was a “lit ass teenager! had maaa fun in school, I used to go to hookie parties, teen bashes, shop in soho for hours…These new teenagers is getting lame they too focus on the internet. Live. Life! Couple years from now you should have memories bout yourself not a celeb.” Now, I would have never thought I’d be quoting Cardi B but she is spot on! It’s not productive or mentally healthy to be so engrossed in a platform that only shows the highlights of our lives, only a skewed version of what our every day consists of, while neglecting the very real and yes, sometimes mundane aspects of our daily routine that actually make us who we are.
So, what’s the take away from all of the above? Well, I’ll leave that for you to determine on your own, but for me, it’s about finding a healthy balance whereby I’m focusing on who and what is around me, the family and friends that I love,
the ones that actually know and care and love me, as opposed to being so invested in social media apps, such as Instagram that largely consists of perfectly curated stories from people that we don’t really know and viewing what they want us to see, which doesn’t always tell the full story.
Perhaps spend more time exploring a real life and being as present as possible, rather than exploring the feeds of social media. After all, you do only have one life to live. Wouldn’t you rather focus on making it a good life?