The Ten-Year Challenge dominated Facebook feeds for a couple of weeks recently. The meme asked people to post side-by-side pictures of themselves from now and from ten years ago. For some, this was an opportunity to decry how much life’s stresses had aged them. For others, this was a prime humblebrag opportunity: “OMG! You haven’t aged a bit.” Others took to posting memes in response (for example, an empty wallet in 2009 and a still-empty wallet in 2019). Although Facebook denies being involved in releasing the meme, they could clearly benefit from having a relatively clean data set for training their face recognition algorithms. Lots of people participated: 5.2 million in just 3 days on Facebook alone, while millions of others joined inon Instagram and Twitter too.
The Ten-Year Challenge was the latest in a series of social media crazes to compete for and win people’s attention. Some were quite serious in tone and a force for social and political change, such as the #metoo movement. Others provided a humorous escape, such as Stephen Colbert’s #puberme stunt that enlisted celebrities to post unflattering pictures of themselves from their awkward teen years. These campaigns and hundreds like them captivated us and consumed a significant amount of our time. In 2017, the average person spent two hours and fifteen minutes scrolling through social media posts every day. Given the constant upward trend in social media time over the past decade, one can only assume we spent even more of our minutes exercising our index fingers in 2018.
And yet, there is mounting evidence that scrolling sours rather than soothes. Even Facebook’s research supports the notion that excessive social media use can contribute to feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and inadequacy. There are several potential reasons for this. Some of the gloom might be caused by feelings of guilt for having devoted so much time to an unproductive venture. Others experience the sadness that comes from comparing the banality of their own lives to cherry-picked moments in the lives of others. For others, passive consumption of random content replaces actual human communication, an unexpected malady for sites usually touted as communication media. The evidence is becoming increasingly clear: social media doesn’t uplift us nearly as regularly as it saddens us.
Together, the Apple App Store and Google Play offer nearly 5.5 million different apps. Ten years ago, shortly after the two stores opened, there were fewer than 100 apps between them. Apps are big business. Like any good business, they keep us hooked and coming back for more.
A personal question for you: can you remember your life when there weren’t so many apps, when Facebook was new, when social media campaigns were about as commonplace as unicorns on street corners, and Russian election meddling was the stuff of a John Grisham novel? Can you recall when mining was something done in caves and not in heavily air-conditioned server farms? Can you remember how things were between you and gorilla-glass-armed appendage when it wasn’t an extra limb, when it was bulkier and slower and had big camera-less bevels and a tiny screen? Can you go back to that ten-year-ago reality for, say, ten consecutive waking hours, just to see how it feels?
How’s that for a Ten-Year Challenge? I think I’ll give it a try. Who knows – I might end up feeling ten years younger.