Before we get into the actual content of this week’s newsletter, I wanted to write a few words about Lyra McKee. Lyra was senselessly murdered in Derry, Northern Ireland on Thursday night. She was fatally shot by a masked gunman firing towards police officers.
I knew Lyra from my time working at Techmeme, the technology news site. Lyra worked for Mediagazer, Techmeme’s sister site. We often worked the same shifts and she took the time to get to know me while we were working. I’d like to think we became friends. I never met Lyra in person. We had always intended to meet up should she happen to be in London, but we never managed to make it happen. But working with her so regularly taught me all I needed to know about the strength of her character.
Away from Mediagazer, Lyra was a fierce advocate for causes that no one else seemed to care about. She never flinched from telling stories that needed to be told. She was passionate, compassionate, friendly. More than anything, she cared. There are plenty of articles out there for you to read about the power of her work and the clarity with which she spoke on difficult issues. But I want to note how she treated me outside of work. She’d make the time to check in on how my career was progressing even after I left Techmeme. She’d let me know how people in the Mediagazer/Techmeme family were. She was enthusiastic about any side projects I was working on. These are small things, but they meant a lot at the time, and they mean even more now. She was ace.
Friday was surreal. Lyra’s death was not just a death, it was a moment. A sickening moment. And the moment was visible everywhere all day. A tweet from Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, was the first time I realised it was a moment. I even looked at my smart watch at one point and her name was there in a news headline. It was a reminder that this online world throws everything into your field of vision, regardless of whether you want to see it.
But the one thing that such a wealth of attention has showed is just how special Lyra was. Just how much she meant to so many people. And in a tragic way, the attention has provided me with the only solace I can find in a situation like this. Her inspiring work has found a new audience and her legacy is one of hope and courage and joy. That is the only good I can find.
So please read the rest of this newsletter with her in your mind and with the perspective that her death affords us.
Now, in the days following her murder, I’m thinking about my former colleagues at Techmeme and Mediagazer. I’m thinking of her family and friends. If you can afford to, you can help her family with the costs of the funeral and help protect her legacy by donating to the GoFundMe page set up in her memory. Thank you. And on with this week’s newsletter.
Vicki recently qualified as a lawyer and she specialises in family law.
As part of this newsletter, I want to explore how people from lots of different walks of life interact and use the internet, and find out how - positively or negatively - it impacts their mental state.
Read her thoughts below.
It’s probably good to start by explaining how I use social media. There are three broad categories: organisational, informational and procrastinational.
The first way I use it -- the organisational -- is to make sure I see my friends. For example, it’s much easier to send a group an invite to a particular event rather than actually having a conversation with each person individually.
The second -- the informational -- is to make sure I know what’s going on the world. I rely on my bubble a lot to know what's happening out there. I'm conscious that this means I’m not necessarily finding other perspectives on the issues of the day (see: Brexit) so I try to use social media to find those opinions. This way, I make sure I can actually hold down a conversation on the subject and not just randomly chant slogans like the current Prime Minister here in the UK.
Finally, there’s the procrastinating. Procrastinating from work, procrastinating from household chores, or procrastinating from getting out of bed. Mindless scrolling through social media feeds, finding out that someone from school is having another baby (really Nathan? Three is enough at 24), or cringing every time my dad posts about “National Beautiful Daughter Day”. I often think I’d achieve so much more in my life without social media.
I use the internet for actually doing my job, but nobody wants to hear about that. Detailed research into Article 21 of the EU Maintenance Regulations is hardly a particularly gripping topic for a newsletter.
But in all of this, technology overload can definitely be a thing. When I receive work emails to my phone, it can be hard to switch off when the phone or laptop is nearby. And even if I’ve switched the phone and laptop off, there’s still a definite sense of panic over whether someone will have sent me something that has to be dealt with right away. Even if in reality that literally never happens.
Social media can have a similar impact. If I leave my phone at home, what if my friend gets engaged? How will I know? I need to be the first person to love-react to that happening, otherwise how will they know I’m the best friend they have?
The same goes for world news. It must nice to only hear the news a couple of times a day. It's exhausting to keep getting notifications about the various ways politicians are ruining the country you live in.
When I visit my parents, the signal is shoddy, and I find a sense of relief that I can just switch off. It's nice to realise that the engagement photos will still be there for me to react to in a couple of days. I can always catch up.
Looking through other people’s social media profiles, you forget that everyone else spends Sunday afternoon cleaning the grouting in their bathroom too, or eats porridge for dinner for a week because they’ve forgotten to buy food (maybe that’s just me). There’s an expectation that you’ll live an awesome life and you’ll share it with the world and his wife on social media. The only people that care what you post are your friends, and they only care because they want you to be having a good time. Everyone else will have forgotten what the post was in thirty seconds.
(Side note: one time someone made fun of me because my relationship status had never been anything other than Single on Facebook. Thanks mum, that hurt.)
Declaring social media to be universally good or bad is far too simplistic. Social media can be used for good (increasing social networks, particularly for introverts, allowing communication with estranged family, organising events and so on), but it can also be used for bad - directly (trolls GTFO) and indirectly (reducing self esteem). The important thing for everyone to remember is that social media, much like cake, should only form a small part of your life. Like anything, it can become all consuming, and it’s important to step away and get perspective, stroke a doggo, and let yourself fall flat on your face without anybody posting a video of it on the internet.
One thing before I go: I think everyone should download the DreamLab app. It means that Imperial College London can use a tiny bit of your data and battery while your phone charges overnight to undertake important calculations for developing life-saving cancer treatments. See, technology is not all bad.
Thanks to Vicki for sharing her perspective!
What Do Social Media Breaks Accomplish? - OneZero/Medium
Screened out: The Spanish teens hooked on technology - El País (don’t worry, it’s in English)
p.s. You might notice this email looks a bit different from before. I’ve switched to a new email platform, which should make it easier to grow this newsletter and make it sustainable.