I used to scoff at the hypothesis of a growing number of academics who assert that social media is linked to depression, but now I get it completely. Twitter in particular feels like a big transnational schoolyard complete with cool kids, outcasts, bullies and sycophants. It’s little aside from a massive popularity contest and winning is losing because the more adoration you receive the deeper into the vortex it drags you. It draws you in with a few likes and a few retweets here and there that ultimately get you craving attention to the point where you’d publicly shame your own grandma for your next hit.
It rewards you for treating other people badly, which means other people are encouraged to treat you badly and this can have real world consequences for your self-esteem. You eventually find yourself wasting away hours on end caring what people, who you’d probably hate in any other social setting, think about you at the expense of real world friends and family who can barely get a few words out of you on any given day with your face buried in a screen.
But for me, it’s even worse than that. Last week I wrote about PTSD, and the truth is Twitter in particular has been a PTSD minefield for me all year. There are numerous otherwise innocuous things that cause me distress when I see them and I’ve found it impossible to control what I see on that medium. You can unfollow, mute and block all the people you like but it doesn’t stop harmful things from getting inadvertently retweeted into your timeline, or well meaning people mentioning you in threads that set you off, or Twitter itself sending you harmful notifications because some algorithm thinks you might be interested. And the more you stay off it the needier it gets, sending you more and more notifications and emails trying to entice you back.
Yet, like anything addictive, going cold turkey is easier said than done. Not just because you can’t resist the urge to check your mentions. When smoking was cool you were a social outcast if you didn’t take it up, and it’s even worse with social media because it’s getting more and more difficult to stay connected to the world without it.
One example is the powers that be in football have made match day programmes optional at National Women’s League fixtures this year, the assumption being that “everyone is on Twitter now” so it’s more important to have videos and fancy graphics that dazzle us with movement and whooshing sounds to stand out amongst all the cat memes. This is a great pity because, call me a dinosaur, but I still think a piece of paper in your hand containing a minimum of the line-ups and a few words to give you some context are still valuable things to have.
And having made a conscious attempt to cut right back on my social media use, I’m finding it really difficult to stay across the things I need to know to complete this project to the best of my ability. Not only can I feel myself losing touch with things like who the important non-WaiBOP players are and what qualities they have, but also small details such as is a given fixture still going ahead as per the original draw – AKA am I flying to Dunedin on the right day next week?
Today was a case in point. I left my West Auckland home with a good hour and a half to get myself to Papakura well ahead of the last kick off time I saw advertised less than a week ago. It was just as well I did! On arrival I didn’t need to venture very far past the gates to know there was nothing going on there today. It turned out the game was in actual fact taking place ten minutes drive away from my house.
“Didn’t you see the change on Twitter??”
No. No I didn’t.
Because any time I need information like that, or when I need the squad lists for the game I’m at, or when I want to know who just scored at the other end (ground announcers have gone the same way as programmes at some venues), there is no option other than to don my gumboots and wade into the Twitter mire. But that comes at an emotional cost in terms of the anxiety I feel not knowing what else I’ll be exposing myself to while I’m there.
One friend on the sideline in Petone last week told me “Twitter drives everything now.” Does it though? It certainly drives media managers and a certain group of fans, but does it really drive real people’s choices? The use of social media by football federations and clubs is nothing new, so we should ask – has it seen an increase in attendance? If someone who follows Auckland Football Federation on Twitter is at this game, how do we know they wouldn’t have been here anyway? Are the hundreds of thousands of kids in South Auckland who choose rugby instead of football doing it because rugby Twitter is better? And if they are, will our funky graphics make any difference to that?
I’m not arguing that Twitter isn’t useful. Only that it’s just one of many tools that we should be getting the most out of rather than putting all our eggs in one basket.
I realise this is probably a losing battle. But I’m used to those. And despite that I do want to give a massive shoutout to Auckland Football’s media manager Mark Casson – to whom I was complaining about some of this on match day one. In response he went to the effort of making me my own personal match day programme for today’s fixture! And it even came with a really touching message on the back page, which I just love.
It didn’t make up for WaiBOP’s narrow loss today, even though they were vastly improved from their last two outings and might just have pinched a draw on a different occasion. It absolutely did make up for the absence of McLennan Park toasted sandwiches in my day though.
Auckland 1, WaiBOP 0
[My other images of this game are available to view and purchase here]