That cocktail. You know you should drink it. But something inside is urging you to move it in line with the sunset, retrieve your smartphone and share the shot with the world. Eight Instagram posts later and your exasperated partner has all but deserted you for the bar. If this sounds depressingly like your last vacation, fear not. Fresh from her stay at Condesa DF in Mexico City, we caught up with former fashion editor and author of Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life, Katherine Ormerod, to tell us about spiral triggers, voyeurism and why a digital detox may not be the answer.
It’s fair to say that your relationship to social media has changed in recent years. Was there one moment in particular or was it gradual?
I had a trip to Tulum three years ago with a bunch of girlfriends. All of us were going through – or had just emerged from – pretty life-changing shitstorms: divorce, family issues, serious business strife. And that is obviously what we were sharing with each other in an emotionally supportive environment. Then I looked at what we were all posting – the typical images from paradise which I’m sure you can imagine. Our lives all looked so easy. And they weren’t at all. I’d been divorced, lost my job, had big financial difficulties and was struggling to start a business – but you’d think everything was rosy and my whole perfect life had been delivered on a silver platter. Something inside me just snapped and I made the decision that if I was going to continue working in social media, I’d need to present both sides of the story.
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Tonight’s first instalment of realz captions comes in the form of this monochrome summer shot. People often ask me who takes my Instagram pictures and more often than not it’s my boyfriend. Everyone laughs about the ‘Instagram husband,’ but for me it’s actually a thing and over the years has caused more than its fair share of rows. The cataclysmic argument which followed this shot was focused on the fact that I wanted to take a picture when he was hungover and not in the mood – which really is fair enough. Without Hade snapping me on his iPhone pretty much everywhere we go, there would be no pictures on this account and I’m unendingly grateful for his patience. But that doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes have flare ups and a worrying amount of time it’s because of pictures for Instagram. So while it may seem that this account is all me, there are actually two of us behind it, generally getting on but sometimes arguing about how he’s managed to make me look like I’ve got 17 chins #whysocialmediaisruiningyourlife
So why is social media so addictive? What are the triggers?
We are genetically hard-wired to network – to build relationships and communities. When we connect with others, our brain is flooded with feel-good hormones encouraging us to be social and get another hit of that emotion. New media just facilitates that primitive, inherent urge for our contemporary times. The issue is that, unlike in real life, digital relationships and the way we present ourselves can be skewed to an entirely new level. If you use social media to form meaningful connections and build relationships with people who genuinely care for you, it can be incredible. However, what we see is a lot of passive social media use – the lurking, stalking, creeping type of behaviour where people are just viewing communication rather than taking an active part in it. This situation can lead to extreme feelings of alienation and spiral into envy, depression and anxiety. Every individual will have different triggers at different points in their lives. In the past I’ve been triggered by images of bodies, pregnancy and career achievements, but it could be seeing friends with other friends, FOMO, missing out on life goals and generally feeling a sense of holistic life dissatisfaction when viewing the curated versions of other people’s lives.
How can we avoid these triggers?
The two key ways are a) be very aware of how much time you’re indulging in passive social media use and know that it has the power to hurt you, and b) try to have a very clear understanding that social media isn’t a reflection of a lived life. I always tell the story that for every outfit picture I post, I probably take 100 shots and choose one. So you see one per cent of a tiny moment of my day. And a day can go from good to bad to worse very quickly – especially when you have an 18 month old. You can’t judge your life or happiness by these micro-snippets which other people have chosen to share with you.
Is a ‘digital detox’ on holiday the answer?
I’ve not had one and I don’t want to – and not because I’m addicted. Social media is part of the fabric of my life – so many of our lives – and I feel strongly that the solution is finding ways of coping every day with it, rather than a ‘dry January / binge February’ approach. However, I do know some people love to take a clean break from their devices. Really, it’s whatever works best for you. I take the weekends off a lot and leave my phone in my room when I’m with my family. I check in with myself emotionally, too, to see how it’s making me feel. I definitely know what it feels like when I’ve let something get the better of me and decide that now is the moment to put the phone down. But, of course, it’s easier said than done.
So you were posting in Mexico?
Yes, I was. Mexico is just so incredibly photogenic – the food, the buildings, the hotels, the colours. We started in Mexico City where a close friend has been living for the past year or so. There’s nothing better than a local with good taste. Then we decamped to Condesa, staying at the structurally stunning Condesa DF. We spent a lot of time walking through the oldest and hippest areas of the city. Food definitely took centre stage – Pujol, Contramar, Masala y Maiz, Máximo Bistrot, Rosetta… And drinks – the legendary margaritas at San Angel Inn were so fantastic we went twice. We then switched pace with a flight to Tulum where we stayed in two exquisite hotels: Be Tulum and the wellness hotspot, Sanara.
Did it ever feel stressful, documenting the trip on social?
If you feel pressured to do anything in life, the general rule is to step away. Over 50k people follow me, but if I didn’t post pictures of my holiday, probably only my mum would be chasing me for the snaps. Seriously, we can all sometimes feel like we are letting someone down if we don’t document experiences – especially when they are so visually beautiful. But if it doesn’t feel good, or you feel like you’ll get down about a lack of response from your community – don’t post. Holidays are about doing what makes you happy.
What does your partner think about you being an influencer?
My ex hated social media, so that was a problem. But my current boyfriend is very relaxed about it – he’s younger than me – and the only time it causes problems is when I ask him to shoot a picture when he can’t be bothered. I work very quickly though, so he could definitely have it a lot worse.
Does social media pose a threat to mental health?
It really depends on your makeup, but it can drive comparison and envy which in turn can lead to feelings of low self esteem, anxiety and depression.
What could or should be done to prevent this?
Sadly, no one government seems able to curb the clear exploitations the tech companies are piling onto our neural vulnerabilities. And if you wait around for something to change, technology will have innovated and there will be new dangers to contend with. As soon as you realise that every second you spend on social media is money in Big Tech’s pocket and that too many of those seconds can harm the way you feel about yourself, you understand that the power lies in your own hands. Similarly to the phrase, ‘you are what you eat’, we need to take personal responsibility for the media diet we feed our brain. You can totally change the story through your behaviour and attitude to social media and there are many positives to be taken away from the platforms – if you create some boundaries and health habits for yourself.
So social media can still be a force for good?
Definitely. Take searching for your next holiday as an example. I think that’s one of the most amazing benefits that the new platforms have given us – it’s opened windows on to the whole world. I look on social media for hotels, restaurants and destinations and definitely build my itineraries with Instagram by my side. I love planning – I secure my restaurant reservations weeks before. I love the anticipation of a trip almost as much as being there.
And the landscape is changing, right? We’re definitely seeing a revolt against the polished, posed Instagram aesthetic with users moving towards a more candid approach.
I think today’s demand for authenticity is just as strong as the earlier ‘perfection’ aesthetic, to be honest. I personally like a mixed diet of the two – aspiration and relatability.
What about influencers who’ve started documenting their travels on film as a way of better ‘living in the moment’?
I love film for this very reason. You can’t perfect a shot there and then, simply because you can’t see what you took. You have to wait and that frees up more time to enjoy yourself.
What other tips do you have in this vein?
A good idea is to leave your phone in the safe if you plan to sunbathe with a book – it’s the most depressing thing in the world to find yourself in a scroll-hole halfway across the world in the most beautiful environment looking at people back home. If you can’t leave your phone behind, because you have children, for example, simply remove the apps from your phone.
Finally, how do you see the social media landscape evolving in the future?
The change has been so fast and so aggressive, we’ve barely started to assess its impact on our lives before it’s become part and parcel of the everyday. I definitely think as the years pass, we’ll get better at integrating the technology into our lives in a more healthy way – just like we did with radio and TV.