Why Resisting Social Media Could Unlock True Purpose In Life

Man2Man: why resisting social media could help unlock true purpose in life

A writer looks back on the men of yesteryear and ponders whether we're losing meaning and purpose in the social media age. Something to ponder before your next scroll

THE TALL GENT SECOND FROM THE LEFT in the photograph below is my great grandfather, circa the early 1930s, standing proudly in his suit and vest; a delightful chain to carry his fob watch for a bit of extra flair.

He’s in Newcastle, NSW. The lad to his left with his arms folded is a member of his boxing troupe. Clarence trained young fighters during what was a stressful and troubling time for many Australian families. Sport, as it is today, would have been an outlet for men who needed a way to take their minds off a global economic crisis that forced them into poverty.

At one point during the Great Depression, Clarence and his brother washed and soaked in vinegar a maggot-ridden leg of lamb given to them by a neighbour. It was a desperate act to deliver some protein to a starving family. Last month, I was with my family and a friend at our local Japanese restaurant, deciding if we should try the $66 per head tasting plate, accompanied by $21 cocktails.

I look at this photo and think about my occasionally misspent youth and nights out in the coal mining city. One particular evening, circa 1996, age 20 and close to where this photo was taken, I convinced myself that it was a good idea to inhale cannabis smoke from a large yellow bucket, the kind I use to wash my car. I stumbled out of the house, vomited on the front lawn and spent the rest of the night curled up on a bare mattress. Ah, youth!

On another, I dealt with the unwanted advances of an acquaintance while trying to sleep off the beer and one or two too many tequila shots after a Skunkhour gig at a pub down the road. We chatted the next day like nothing happened.

Fun times, but I’m almost certain that Clarence wouldn’t approve.

Life would have been unbelievably tough for Clarence and his family, but he had one thing on his side during those years: a sense of purpose in training young boxers to be the best they could be. He would have enjoyed it, I’m sure.

What Clarence wasn’t doing was faffing around on social media all day, squabbling with a bunch of strangers over a celebrity incident or social issue that’s been amplified to a point where it’s gone absolutely nuclear. He wasn’t fed a daily diet of social media junk food – like the cheeseburgers that sit in your gut after a sneaky weekend McDonalds run.

I have purpose too through yoga, running and family. But sadly, unlike Clarence, I’ve developed a daily addiction to these tools and the algorithms that spew doses of stuff I don’t want to see in my direction. I’ve been scrolling today, and I hate myself for it.

Adults behave like adolescents on social media, channelling their collective anger at just about everyone. Recently, it was an ageing comedian who booted a mother and her baby from one of his shows. The incident has been dissected so much by the court of public online opinion that neither the child’s mother nor the comedian can find a way back. People don’t take the middle ground anymore, they’re either in one camp or another. Friendships are tested and in my experience, some are even lost.

Meanwhile, on social septic tank, X, someone argued that 1997 Australian film, The Castle, has done irreparable damage to urban planning in this country. Apparently, it was a “converge towards self-entitlement and hypocrisy, a surrender to urban sprawl and sitting on a motorway two hours a day.”

I’m sorry, what? One of Australia’s greatest comedies about a wholesome family trying to save their home from greedy developers damaged urban planning? It’s a beautiful, hilarious and (this is the important part), fictional story.

Then there’s LinkedIn, where people where express their love and devotion for the opportunities given to them by corporations. Some of these places are even referred to as “families.” Call me crazy, but families don’t typically retrench their members for under performance. Big ups to the treasure trove that is YouTube though. Where else can you watch reruns of Rhonda Rousey’s fascinating transition from the Octagon to WWE Evolution? Is there anything that Rowdy can’t do? I mean, she’s carrying two women at once.

I’ve shared too many of my silly opinions over the years with people who likely wouldn’t acknowledge me face to face, those who are not trustworthy friends and colleagues. Good human connections don’t live inside poorly designed algorithms.

I remember the early days of social media; people were sharing family photos, grassroots athletic pursuits and organising birthday parties. That was it really. Now, I don’t know what to think; I’m seeing nudity, misogyny, misinformation and manufactured outrage. It feels like a poker machine that’s got the better of me.

This online town hall that we have created is feeling a little icky; engines whirring in the back end, taking the worst parts of humanity and using them against us. We need to push back against misogynistic memes and the Metaverse.

This pendulum has swung way too far in the wrong direction and Silicon Valley bosses know it. I’m hoping that Meta’s smart glasses don’t take off, a perfect product for weirdos to wear at the beach.

I’m wearing my rose-tinted glasses instead, yearning for the early days of social platforms. I felt less anxious about what I saw online and less inclined, in hindsight, to have what were unacceptable conversations in a closed group with extended family members. Exchanges that most people would never have the guts to initiate face to face.

There’s too much negative energy; felt experience with people you care about is where the magic happens. I argue less with my partner after a run in the bush and the positivity typically lasts the whole weekend. It beats raising the temperature between us over politics or the relevance of the British Royals to modern society.

This is one image of myself on social media among the many hundreds, possibly thousands, that I actually like.

I’m charging to the finish line on a 10km course in under 40 minutes, one with at least a few nasty hills. It was circa 2014, a time before I’d had my fill of social media cheeseburgers. I’m upright, steady and purposeful.

I’m almost certain that Clarence would approve.

Byron Connolly is Sydney-based writer, running and yoga enthusiast. He completed the North Face 100 ultra marathon in 2012 and 2013. He’s also won a few Parkruns.

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