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They tell followers to reduce their use of social media but don’t appear to practice what they preach. Are mindful influencers encouraging a healthier approach to Instagram or exacerbating the problem?
It’s ironic that people with thousands of followers and a constant rotation of Instagram Stories are telling us to put down our phones.
Social media is ruining your life. It’s a message that has been plugged into us by governments, brands, academic researchers, and now a more unexpected breed of propagator – the influencer.
Over the last few years, many of us have been re-evaluating our relationship with technology. Not only are we being fed worrying statistics, such as Ofcom's estimation that we check our phones every 12 minutes, but we're being sold expensive holidays under the guise of digital detoxes and sleek 'dumb phones' to help wean our fidgeting thumbs.
But a new tribe of influencer is emerging. While not promoting complete abstinence from our devices, these 'mindful influencers' want us to approach social media with a more mindful, moderate lens. Rather than adhering to a damaging form of Neo-Luddism, they are encouraging others to embrace a slower version of social media that puts themselves, not their followers, first.
This approach is closely linked to the feelings of anxiety that social media platforms have been accused of embedding among users. A recent study of US teenagers by Hill Holliday found that 41% said social media made them feel anxious, sad or depressed. This is a conversation that will surely ring true for many users who feel a sense of duty to not only post methodically, matching or even beating their number of likes, but to also consume the performance of others' lives.
While mindful influencers' emphasis on moderation may seem like a logical answer to a problem shaped by dopamine and excess scrolling, these influencers are not necessarily practicing what they preach. In fact, many don’t seem to be dialling-down their use of social media at all. Influencers such as Katherine Ormerod, a former magazine editor who recently published her book Why Social Media is Ruining your Life, has not one but two Instagram accounts, with a combined total of 55,000 people following her street style and parenting updates. British Millennial poster girl Pandora Sykes writes about healthy digital diets – on Twitter, daily. Author Catherine Price, meanwhile, uses Instagram tips and hashtags to help people achieve a ‘screen/life balance’.
While mindful influencers’ emphasis on moderation may seem like a logical answer to a problem shaped by excess scrolling, they are not necessarily practicing what they preach.
It’s difficult not to see the irony in the fact that people with thousands of followers, a blue tick and a constant rotation of Instagram Stories are telling us to put down our phones. Are they capitalising on a new fad – a Millennial hunger for the latest iteration of self-care? Or are they seasoned marketers, using much-frequented channels and their influence over thousands to encourage a healthier way of living?
We all know moderation is important. It’s integral to a future in which resilience and the ability to control our own urges – rather than switching off altogether – are paramount. As Ormerod herself states in a recent Guardian article: ‘Social media is here to stay, as are our phones, and while ‘off-gridding’ for a certain amount of time is gaining popularity, for most of us it’s really a matter of conscious, mindful consumption.’
In my opinion, brands and influencers alike should be encouraging mindful consumption in more imaginative ways; they need to do more than a catchy hashtag or sporadic Instagram caption that admits the dark truth behind a seemingly perfect shot. They should be finding ways to reduce users' reliance organically, eliminating the pressure and anxiety that comes with maintaining an online identity by rewarding infrequent, more thoughtful shares, posts and likes.
These mindful influencers may claim that social media can ruin lives but right now, they remain reluctant to reduce their daily doses. Perhaps it's time to practice what they preach.
For more on how technology can enable us to recover, cope and transform, look out for our upcoming macrotrend Resilience Culture.