Lifestyle, Mental Health, Social media, Teen fiction

Social Media Cleanse Diary – Day 3

After yesterday’s myriad of mind games, I feel like today has been much more straight forward in terms of my emotional response to this social media cleanse.

The great news is that I have managed to build once again on yesterday’s success and in fact only used social media once all day!

In my wildest predictions I would not have expected myself to curb the habit to such an extent at this very early stage.

Oh I do hope the whole 2 months will continue in this vain.

The one time I did use social media, it was a quick 1 minute check on Facebook. I was immediately greeted once more with the social media post that has annoyed me all week and so I went straight to refresh the newsfeed wheel of fortune which decided I would like to read about a burned out car instead. How lovely.

It is worth mentioning at this stage that my partner is a bit sceptical about my methodology for this challenge.

She believes I should go cold turkey from the offset and she also doesn’t believe that I should keep Direct Message platforms such as WhatsApp available for usage.

She even believes that using my blog to post updates is in fact using social media and therefore contradicting what I am trying to achieve.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and my other half doesn’t hold back with her opinions I can tell you that much for sure.

Perhaps her observations are valid to some extent and maybe this is why I have found things rather easy so far. It is difficult to say.

In spite of this I will continue on with the same plan, but I am now contemplating whether to up the anti for the final few weeks of the challenge and simply ghost any and all online avenues until I reach the end.

Maybe I could go as far as chucking my phone out and communicating via barn owl. Who knows?

All I know is I’m feeling good at the moment and hopefully this will be a feeling that grows as the challenge goes on. Only time will tell.

For those who are yet to read up about my current challenge, get up to speed @ https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/16414670/posts/510

Don’t forget, if social media addiction is something that interests you, why not check out my young adult novel The Invite and join troubled teen Lindsey Hookwink on her night of virtual horrors that well and truly expose her unhealthy smartphone habits. 

Mental Health, Social media, Technology

Social Media Cleanse Diary – Day 1

3,561 Day 1 Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

Let the fun and games begin I say. I have started the first day of my 2-month long challenge with surprising vigour.

This positive midframe and approach has already helped me reap rewards as I have in fact barely touched social media all day!

I have certainly surprised myself.

I must say however it does feel less of an accolade when you consider that I have been super busy with work all day, having just returned from a week-long break on the South Coast. This was further assisted by the fact we had a house valuation after work and lots of household chores to contend with thereafter.

I ended up utilising social media sites a total of 4 times throughout the day; twice I used Snapchat and twice Facebook. Total time spent was 10 minutes.

Not to blow my own trumpet or anything but I think this is quite impressive when you bear in mind that the time spent on Facebook was primarily to post about this challenge.

So far so good and my mental headspace is so far in check.  I am under no illusion that these are very early days though and I know not every day will be cluttered with so many welcomed distractions.

Let us see what tomorrow brings.

For those who are yet to read up about my current challenge, get up to speed @ https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/16414670/posts/510

Don’t forget, if social media addiction is something that interests you, why not check out my young adult novel The Invite and join troubled teen Lindsey Hookwink on her night of virtual horrors that well and truly expose her unhealthy smartphone habits. 

Books, Mental Health, Social media, Technology, Teen fiction

See you later social media, time to practice what I preach!

Isn’t it ironic how I created a work of fiction that explores powerful themes on how social media has the potential to cause harm, but yet social media is my main outlet in which I use to promote it?

A bit controversial I know and maybe this makes me a hypocrite? On second thoughts don’t answer that!

In my defence I feel the world we currently live in left me with little choice in this matter if I was serious about reaching my intended target audience.

None of us can seem to live without our trusty platforms and so for months now I have bit the bullet and utilised them more than I should, in spite of my beliefs.

From the start of my self-publishing journey, I have pleaded with myself to approach the book promotion with a military mindset, go in, spread the word and leave. There would be no lingering to snoop on everyone’s latest Insta post or scroll mindlessly through Facebook.

And for a long time, I convinced myself that I was doing just that.

One day however it struck me that book sales had well and truly simmered down and I hadn’t posted any meaningful content of relevance in ages! In spite of this it occurred to me that I was still spending the same amount of time (longer even) on all the usual social media suspects. If I wasn’t promoting my book then what was I doing I hear you ask…?

In truth I’m not entirely sure. Looking back, I think the best way to summarise is, I would almost instinctively go on each platform and scroll mindlessly at content at random intervals throughout the day. At first, I think I assured myself I was doing it as a way in which to build my networks. Maybe at first, I was. But after a while it became clear that the network building had come to a complete halt.

So what is the big deal I hear you ask…?

I felt terrible is what. For months now I have been battling with depression and I’m all but certain social media has a lot to answer for in making me feel this way. 

All things considered I figured it was time to set my own example. I have therefore come up with a challenge to cleanse my soul of social media and keep a daily diary of how I feel to record the experiment.

I figured it would be a cool idea to tie this is to the 1st Anniversary of my book The Invite on 31st October- aka Halloween.

The plan is to undertake a gradual withdrawal of my screen time over the coming months until I reach the stage where I am T-total. Research suggests that this is the best way to obtain a healthy benefit from the online break.  

On September the 6th I will embark on my 2month-long quest which will include a phased approach to my ultimate goal of achieving online freedom. I have created a week-by-week plan, which (fingers crossed) will proceed as follows:

  • First week – Figure out the problem and note down how many times I used a social media platform, detailing which one was used and when
  • Week 2- Try and reduce overall useage by half
  • Week 3 – Delete the platform I use least and try to reduce useage of the others by half again
  • Week 4- Limited social checks to every other day
  • Week 5- ‘Cold turkey’ This will be the time to delete all social media. I will only be keeping chat options such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
  • Weeks 6-8- Remain social media sober

To monitor the impact of my challenge I plan to create a daily diary which will outline the specifics of how I am finding the experience and more importantly, how my mental well-being is being affected.

I will post my daily entry right here on the blog (which will hopefully be the most online interaction I have throughout the 2 months) but will refrain from engaging with any kind of responses my updates may summon.

It is going to be a fascinating and possibly excruciatingly difficult task, so do come back to check out my daily up and downs in just over a week’s time.

In the meantime, if social media addiction is something that interests you, why not check out my young adult novel The Invite and join troubled teen Lindsey Hookwink on her night of virtual horrors that well and truly expose her unhealthy smartphone habits. 

All that is left to say is, wish me luck!

Mental Health, Pandemic, Social media, Technology, Teen fiction, Uncategorized

What social media doesn’t show

I’ve been feeling a bit down in the dumps just recently. I mean who hasn’t?

We are all still feeling the shock waves of the COVID crisis and I’m sure we will do for years to come. Naturally this might be what is causing my mood management trouble.

After all we have lost out on so much fun and a very real question mark remains over how life will be post June.

In an effort to combat my bouts of depression I took some time to really consider what might be the root cause of my suffering.

Although there was no immediate light bulb moment, in the few days that followed I couldn’t help but notice my mood seemed to take a nose dive after each and every session on a social media platform.

Although I have a lot going for myself right now, I happen to be at that awkward stage in life, where everything is in question. As a 31-year-old engaged (but not yet married man) with no children of my own, it is clear that I am becoming more of a minority as increasing numbers of people my age have now crossed that bridge. In my rational and not usually envious mind I am able to make peace with this fact and focus on what is happening in my own life rather than compare with others.

That is however until I take one innocent scroll through social media and for some reason my head becomes awash with feelings of pressure, envy and to be brutally honest, anger. Every single post I set eyes on has pictures of people parading their new born babies or bragging about how amazing married life is; and for some reason this triggers me.

The bombardment of content is so overwhelming it often results in me now throwing my phone aside. I can’t imagine the soul sucking tech giants anticipated that happening when they chose to cast their bait at me.

The problem I have though, is that I always end up coming back. This is unfortunately an outcome I’m sure that big tech giants evidently do bank on time after time.

Since recognising this effect social media has on me, I have had several conversations with people close to me, during which an unsettling conclusion was reached.

People only post stuff on social media that they want people to see! Furthermore, social media platforms only show you stuff that they want you to see. When you consider that we all have this tendency to fabricate how we really feel and paint a picture-perfect vision of how we think our lives should be, is it any wonder we fight to exceed expectations all the time? If we maximise this perfect vision by let us say 500 Facebook friends and imagine that there is an algorithm somewhere spoon feeding you this stuff for a reaction, is it any wonder that it is driving me (and all of us perhaps) to despair?

Think about it this way, how many posts do you see from people announcing the death of a family member, a failed IVF attempt or details of a violent relationship? Ok perhaps there are a brave handful of individuals who might do us. Perhaps that adds a fraction of perspective. It is sad to think in reality though, people who post about the bad stuff are often ridiculed as attention seekers, even if people do not openly admit it to their faces.

Think also about all those people who are unlucky in love, have crippling health or mental health problems or might not even be able to afford the luxury of social media due to extreme poverty?

Just because it appears as though everyone online is living the life of riley; it is quite simply NOT TRUE.

Let us not forget either that people rarely post pictures in the middle of the night when their teething baby quite simply will not stop crying or when a couple’s happy marriage is tainted by one or both having been unfaithful.   

I know this also sounds rather sinister of me. And I Just to clarify I am not one of these sick individuals who gets a thrill off the misfortune of others; far from it. The issue I have is more due to the fact there is little to no platform in which to relate and empathise with others on social media. This for me is a critical factor in helping to maintain our well-being.

Before I get berated by all the families I’m friends with online too, I also want to make clear that I have nothing against you and your children. I’m sure you all have wonderful families and that is great.

I think this crisis has come about partly by accident and partly by the sheer greed of the tech companies.

I don’t think any of us really think before we post a nice-looking picture. Maybe some of us do so out of vanity, but that is a separate issue in itself. It is hard for us to grasp the concept that our little mark on the world can actually have a negative impact on someone else. It is a deep thought to consider when you are in the moment.

I think the biggest issue of all in regards to the potential for harm from social media is that most of us simply do not realise that it is these very platforms that are causing us harm.

Therefore if this blog helps just one person to give a thought to how social media might be affecting their mental health (and that of others in fact) that for me is a start.

As many of you may know, my feelings towards smartphones and social media addiction are well documented in my debut novel The Invite, aimed at young adults everywhere. If you found my insights above of interest and you haven’t read my book already, you can grab your copy now @ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invite-C-P-Riches-ebook/dp/B08MCDYPPL

I think at some point, big tech firms need to take some accountability, but in the meantime we are on our own, swimming in unchartered waters. Let us all help each other, rather than letting some of us sink.

Books, Dogs, Lockdown, New Fiction, Smartphone, Technology, Teen fiction, Teen Novel

Plodding on with my new pooch

Poppy is an author’s pup

How in god’s name are we approaching May already!?

I find it hard to comprehend how time can whizz by so quickly when we have all been stuck in lockdown for 4 months. Perhaps that is a good thing, who knows. I think the term ‘time flies when you are having fun’ definitely does not apply here!

Not to act up like an angry old goat or anything, but oh my days, has this year been a sack of stale cow dung! I mean the previous (I don’t even know how many) lockdowns were painful, but this one has cut the deepest. I don’t know if everyone else feels the same?

The endless days of bitter cold, working like a robot without any play and simply being made to stare constantly at the same four walls have sucked away my very soul!

Thankfully there has been a shining little light that has helped guide me through the dark times. At the end of January this year, myself and my fiancé decided to extend our little family to three and bought home a 10-week-old Cocker Spaniel, who we named Poppy.

Now don’t judge me for following the lockdown puppy craze. I can assure you the decision was a long and informed one. It just felt right!

I’m ashamed to admit I am not historically a big dog lover; however, the other half had a lovely Labrador which completely changed my perspective on these wonderful creatures.  

The moment we first met Poppy she melted our hearts and we just knew she had to come home with us.

As amazing as the whole experience has been so far, little could have prepared me for the extent in which it would turn our lives upside down. I was offered a fair warning about the commitment, but I figured this was just an exaggeration. It was not!

I have not been blessed with children in my life just yet, but I can imagine having a puppy is comparable to having a baby; except puppies also have sharp teeth and love to bite EVERYTHING!

It is safe to say that it has been an absolute mad house here for the past 3 months. Sleepless nights, multiple toileting accidents, lots of destroyed furniture and one major scare which cost us a hefty vet bill.

The good news is that there has been little time to fester in an ocean of self-pity when there are walks to be taken or military style training to conduct.

The bad news however is that I have had next to no time to reflect on my debut novel The Invite, let alone focus on writing anything new.

Now I have finally had time to breath again, I have decided it is time to get back to the bread and butter. And when I look at the continual avalanche of online hate that plagues us, I think getting the word out there about my teen fiction novel has never been so essential.

Factor in the disturbing figures surrounding mental health in young adults, I almost feel that it is my duty to spread the word far and wide about my fictional interpretation that drills into issues surrounding smartphone addiction.

For those who are yet to read The Invite, this debut novel of mine takes readers on a twisted journey with troubled teen Lindsey Hoodwink who is treated to a night full of virtual horrors that tap into her unhealthy obsession with her smartphone. Let’s just say the boundaries of technology and real life, become unbelievably blurred…

You can get your copy of The Invite now @ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invite-C-P-Riches-ebook/dp/B08MCDYPPL

To be honest I doubt there will be a better time to pick up a copy, as I have decided to offer my pride and joy for FREE, for the May bank holiday weekend only!  

So now things start to return to normal (majorly touching wood right now!) I plan to keep on with the writing exploits and although I have been somewhat occupied over the past few months, I may have a little new writing project that has been sometime in the making over lockdown…

More details to be revealed soon.

As an end note, I can’t believe this might actually be my last blog before we return to real life. Do I dare the dream? We can but hope!

Chris

films, Lifestyle, New Fiction, Technology

So, it is acceptable for our tech to snoop?

In a recent attempt to bypass the lockdown boredom, I stumbled across a film that really captured my attention. I seem to keep doing this at the moment.

The film was called The Circle and after watching the trailer I immediately questioned how and why I had never watched or even heard of this before.

I mean the movie had an all-star cast, which included huge names such as Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. It was only released in 2017 and the concept looked pretty on trend to me.

After enjoying the trailer, I didn’t have to think twice before initiating a search for it on Netflix. However, in the few moments before playing the thing I scoped out the reviews on IMDB and was dismayed to learn that it only had a rating of only 5.3. With no back-up option at the ready, it felt like a slap-in the face.

In my stubbornness and determination not to follow the flock of film critical sheep, I disregarded the information at hand and decided to give the film ago regardless.

I’m really glad I did.

Ok so it wasn’t the greatest Tom Hanks film I have ever seen, but it was certainly an eye opening one, that is for sure.

To explain in a nutshell, the movie was basically about a rogue tech firm who glorified its new surveillance products as innovations that would make the world a safer and more transparent place. Furthermore, the company headquarters were essentially a camp where young employees were brainwashed into endorsing a rather sinister obsession to eradicate people’s privacy. Emma Watson’s character was introduced as the company’s latest recruit/ victim and the story considers her disturbing journey which leads her to discover and challenge what is really going on.

Aside from the immoral undertones of privacy breaches explored within the film, I found I could really empathise with the culture of the company that was portrayed; which was one of obedience, intense pressure and a lack of longing or courage to challenge an unfair system. It is quite disturbing to realise that this culture is one of familiarity and I’m sure this is an ethos that many major companies instil. The company in the film was on a mission to gain power and control in order to maximise profits at everyone’s expense.

On a whole the film really helped me to consider a dangerous side to technology that I hadn’t considered or at least was not overly concerned with before. It made me think about how our phones quite clearly listen in to our conversations and then as if by magic offer us a targeted advert or offer us a news article based on the subject. I’m sure lots of you will have noticed this.

At times this may seem comical and sure, we are just being provided with an innocent looking advert. But if you take a moment to actually think about it, it just isn’t right. And The Circle just made me ponder the possibility of how the benefit of technology can quite easily turn into turn into a danger if manipulated against us.  

So again, I think back to the IMBD rating and have to ask myself the question, why was it was poorly rated? Aside from the important overall message, it had a big name cast, lots of action and some good twists. I just cannot seem to comprehend it. Perhaps I have an unusual taste in films, who knows.  

It is all a matter of opinion, I guess. Maybe it is the fact that we find the concept far fetched? Worse still, is the premise just too real that we can’t handle the dark reality?  

Or are we simply not bothered or even interested in our own right to privacy?

Whatever the reason behind the ratings, I find the poor response to the film rather unnerving. Ok I get that it is only a film, but I believe we should all be intrigued by the big issues that are arguably happening right now.

If IMDB ratings aren’t the be all and end all and you are interested in issues around technology and privacy, you can check out The Circle on Netflix

In recent years I have become both fascinated and disturbed by the emergence and potential dangers of technology. So much so I decided to explore this issue with my fantasy fiction debut novel The Invite which is aimed at young adults. The story considers a scary concept of VR and addiction, but doesn’t cover privacy. Maybe it should have. Something of a thought to follow up on perhaps.

All that is left for me to say is I’m not too sure what will it take for us to wake up? Maybe movie directors should go with Tim Allen over Tom Hanks next time…

Books, Lifestyle, Smartphone, Technology

Smarten up on the dark truth

Teenagers chained to their phones

After sharing an update on my new book release, I received a comment online that intrigued me.

It was a suggestion to watch a documentary on Netflix called the Social Dilemma.

I was told it would blow my mind… and it did!

This production was suggested due to a strong overlap of themes to my book release, The Invite.  In my haste to find out exactly what these might be, I decided to watch it that very same evening.

The first thing I noticed is that the documentary was being presented by original employees from tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. I immediately thought this was unusual and so did not expect the content that was to come.  

The whole thing was cleverly done and quickly turned from being light-hearted and conversational to deeply disturbing.

The best way I can surmise this unnerving watch, is as a stark diagnosis and warning about our relationship with social media. The content focussed primarily on the sinister psychological methods of social media technologies to manipulate us, the people. We were educated about the use of clever algorithms that learn our behaviours and exploit them to the achieve the goals of the tech companies.  

The key message was that we are the product and social media companies will do whatever they can to keep us plugged into their pages.  

Without giving too much away, some of the shocking topics discussed included revelations such as how your phone knows what you are looking at, for how long and then feeds you info related to this.  

Scarier still, these algorithms conveniently refrain from showing you content that may contradict the opinions/views that you are being spoon-fed. When you factor in that social media sites do very little to filter out fake news, which in fact often enhances consumer engagement with their sites, it is very easy to see how many of us can develop a warped and extreme view of the world.  

There are various key messages conveyed throughout the short film, but rather than verging any further into spoiler territory, I will zip my lip there and strongly recommend you give it a watch. https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81254224

The more engrossed I got into the documentary the more I realised how the content directly mirrored a lot of the dark themes presented in my own book. When you consider my story is fiction and this is real life, that is a rather terrifying conclusion.   

The warning conveyed on my screen made me realise that the release of my book might actually be the most important thing I ever do and is needed right now!  

Thankfully I can announce that my book is ready to make us all think about online addiction. You can actually order The Invite now by visiting  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invite-C-P-Riches-ebook/dp/B08MCDYPPL

In the interest of objectivity, I should say it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The narrator’s believed that it was never the initial objective of tech companies to brainwash society. Like any other business, they just want to make money. It is just that somewhere along the way, things have got out of control. The key message I guess you could say, is that we need to get it back!