• Ian McClellan

Week 6: Using social media differently.

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

If there is one thing that we have a bit more than usual of during Christmas holidays, it is time. And if there is one thing that habitually takes up some of this time, it is scrolling through social media.

Whether that is having a quick look at everyone else's Christmas Day pictures whilst there is a slow passage of play during the Boxing Day football, or spending time in the pub picking the best filter to emphasise the colours in the sky after a New Year's Eve countryside walk, the impact at Christmas of social media reflects the impact throughout our society. We are more outward looking and less in the moment, we seek more pleasure and less happiness, our lives are more easily comparable to others in ways like never before.

That being said, social media also gets a bit of a rough ride, and is perhaps treated as if it is a compulsory part of our existence. Having a profile is our choice, and our social media feeds are often simply a reflection of ourselves. For example, we do choose who to be friends with on Facebook, and we do choose who to follow on Instagram. We are then served content and advertising based on the content that we engage with already, and based on our consumption habits. The more we use social media, the more it learns about us and incentivises us to use it even more.

Therefore, our newsfeeds are based initially on people that we have engaged with, groups we have joined and pages that we have liked. It seems like then social media then serves us other content, maybe based on what people like us also like, or maybe similar content to stuff we might have viewed, or posts that we have interacted with previously. Some people might pay also to have their products advertised based on all of the above, and because they think we might like what they are offering.

There are many dark conspiracies, and maybe many of them are true, and I am definitely not qualified in the pros and cons of social media - but on the basic level, and the conversation that I have with myself when I lose thirty minutes down a social media rabbit hole - being annoyed at your social media feeds, is largely just being annoyed at something you can control. Therefore instead of being annoyed, we can change it, and this was the inspiration this week. To make a little change that harnesses my social media feed for good, and see if I can use it to give us information about environmental, ecological or socially aware topics.

In other words - this week, I am changing my social media feed to be more planetwise.

A secondary reason for this, is because as the weeks have gone past, I have realised how little we actually know about the subjects I am writing about. This is not a surprise, as in the main we consume mainstream media and live a comfortable life, free from some of the direct impacts of climate change. But as we continue to build up new and permanent changes in our lives, it has given me motivation to find out more and learn more about some of the changes we are making, and has meant that we have more questions about things that we notice along the way.

In terms of the practical steps, this has also been perhaps one of the easiest changes I have made so far. It does not require leaving the house, it does not require the purchase of any additional equipment. It does not even really require any serious investment in time, as once you have begun to research and investigate the best and most active groups to follow, the social media algorithms take over anyway. If you follow a group concerning the conservation of oceans, you are immediately suggested several more. You can fairly easily see from the profile summary where they are, the number of followers, and whether they are active on social media, and make some pretty good choices in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.

In fact, perhaps the hardest thing to do, was to know where to start, and when to stop.

The former problem, was a question of credibility, or perhaps impartiality. One of the main reasons that I writing up this diary, was because I did not want to be divisive or to take a side. It was because I believed that the changes we can all make, should unite us and that no-one I ever talked to should feel that by making changes, we are putting ourselves above others.

The moment we start to make changes to our lives that are somehow rooted in perceived activism, or are changes that we don't believe that anyone can make, is the moment that I have lost sight of the vision. We should all be able to reach a sustainable lifestyle, but being planetwise is not about making radical changes immediately - it is about making the next good choice, and by building new and permanent habits.

This means that we had to resist following or engaging with too many influencers. Influencers are, by definition, individuals who are using social media to influence our opinions or behaviours. There are loads of good ones out there, and there are names that we recognise and therefore feel comfortable engaging with. But there is a suspicion also that there are many who know how to use social media to build followers, and who perhaps use climate changes as a hook to build these followers rather than passion or a desire for a better planet.

The second problem, is linked to this. Because of how social media has evolved, it feels that influencers with resources know how to use social media algorithms to push themselves forwards, climb rankings, and become perceived as more relevant. Some of the perhaps less glamorous, but recognisable and global pressure groups, who have the passion but not the resources or expertise, or perhaps put their resources towards action as a priority rather than awareness on social media, are harder to find.

The solution here, was therefore simply to search out organisations that we know, and then learn as we go, and trust that social media will do its job and help us join the dots. Therefore, we have followed some of the large, global social media accounts such as Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam, and then we hope that others will be served to us, or through reading we'll discover more as we go.

The results have been cathartic as well as inspirational. Instead of needing to endlessly tweak privacy or content settings, drown out the noise of advertising, or make other negative changes to our social media feeds, we have instead complemented some of the less relevant noise with new, enriching information. Of the first ten on my newsfeed right now - four are dedicated to planetwise groups, three to stuff that friends are doing, one to a group that I follow, and only two are either sponsored or are seemingly irrelevant to what I'd like to see.

New and interesting articles are not a surprise, but what I didn't expect is that some of the advertising is immediately coming through and is also new. Companies who are offering more sustainable solutions to clothing, services and new ideas that add to our desire to make little changes and give us new ideas, have given some additional momentum and inspiration to us. It's perhaps a little scary how quickly this happened, and how my newsfeed took this turn, but it is a positive one.

And all in the time is took to have a hot drink.

This is the very start of the experiment, and perhaps I'll have to keep an eye on what we are served to make sure it continues to be relevant, but now it feels we have direct information at our fingertips - whether that be general videos, or specific highlights such as the UK National Trust's 2019 Wildlife and Weather Review that was just published, and without this change would have passed us by. Real information, about where we live, instantly available by making one little change, and one click.


We have also started to extend this principle to the television as a family, whenever we can. On-demand TV, has a similar influence to our viewing habits as smartphones - we can watch whatever we like, whenever we like. Our three-year old would sooner watch 47 cartoons in a row out of habit, than request a historical documentary or a nature programme, and our homescreens of on-demand services reflect just that viewing habit.

Yet the same technology, that allows us to view life-like CGI fantasies, has allowed pioneers in nature shows to create masterpieces of cinematic wonder where the stars are the creatures and places not of our dreams, but of the World around us.

I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, and therefore hold a special place in my heart for Sir David Attenborough. Much of the love I have for nature, and much of my knowledge, came from watching shows like Wildlife on One, or Life on Earth. For me, no single person has had an more impact on our awareness and attitude towards our planet. These shows, were a gateway to be able to experience places I have still never visited, and understand ecological processes that happen thousands of miles away yet are connected to us all. I would watch in wonder, and understand more each time about the circle of life, and the struggle that species have against each other.

Fast forward to now, and Sir David Attenborough and his teams are somehow still at the cutting edge of this education. The deep understanding of the planet has meant that the shows have changed emphasis - and now the shows depict the struggles that species have to simply survive despite of each other, against the challenges that we have created. Less food, less predictable weather patterns, smaller habitats.

We have introduced our little boy to Sir David, through these little changes. When we watch a cartoon featuring a penguin, we find an episode of Seven Worlds, One Planet that features penguins. When we watch a show with monkeys, it reminds us to look back at Our Planet and giggle as we watch the Tarsier monkeys jumping from tree to tree catching crickets.

Small changes, but ones that help us all understand more. Little connections, that make us a little more informed, and give new ideas for change.

By making this change, it also feels like we have created a tiny bit of extra harmony in our lives, with pieces of equipment that were perhaps starting to control us, rather than us controlling them. Every day, we carry in our pockets, or in our bags, a piece of hardware that gives us almost infinite connectivity to anything and anywhere. We have a TV that gives us windows to the World in ways that feel as if you are there.

Yet, we allow these to passively control their purpose, or we make arguments to reject screens or technology altogether. We measure screen time as if it is purely a bad thing, yet for most of my childhood, no-one told me to go to the library less, to stop staring at the pictures in National Geographic magazines, or that reading is bad for you. It is how you use a screen, rather than what it is, that is important. Use it wisely, and it is enriching, educational and inspirational in a way that our parents and grandparents could only dream of. Use it unwisely, and I would agree that it becomes something that brings instant pleasure, but not permanent happiness.

#beplanetwise #littlechanges

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