Stop trying to control Social Media – we need to control ourselves

(I wrote this for the Governing Emerging Technologies module, as part of my UCL studies)

Why governing our own use of social media is the key to mental wellbeing

4th February 2004.

Sound like a memorable date? Probably not. But it’s a date which has impacted the lives of 1.79 billion people and counting – the start of Facebook. This means that Facebook will shortly be celebrating its 13th birthday, and just like many teenagers, it’s being blamed for a lot. Of course, Facebook isn’t totally innocent either. It provides a platform where malicious intentions can thrive. Actions from anonymous cyberbullying, to planning terrorist attacks would be extremely difficult, if impossible, to coordinate without it. But now, the major talking point seems to be around its less obvious impacts. That is, how it effects our mental health. As Facebook has managed to weave its way into the centre of our lives, it has become caught up in concerns about our wellbeing.

This is the story of the social media as a whole. Or, as it is often referred to: ‘the internet’s love child’. Twitter has been around for 10 years and now has 320 million users. Even more rapid is the rise of Instagram, which has gained 400 million users in its mere 6 years. All these statistics have been used time and time again to testify the power that social media has within society, and they’re not wrong (if a little tedious). However, this power combined with its brief history, makes social media a governing nightmare. Even though it has come to dominate our society, social media is an extremely recent development in technology. Consequently, it’s difficult to trace and almost impossible to predict.

But how much should we really be blaming social media for in terms of our mental wellbeing? Rather than placing all kinds of restrictions on them, do we need to start placing restrictions on ourselves? In one word, yes.

Our love affair with social media has turned sour. Modern day life is commonly described as complex and stressful but, more and more often, social media is being identified as the source of much anxiety and sadness. We’re looking at a stranger’s Instagram and comparing their seemingly perfect life to our own. Scrolling through Facebook and seeing pictures of friends having fun. Clinging onto iPhones in times of boredom, unable to remove ourselves from the online world. What may come across as futile #firstworldproblems are actually having serious effects on our health.

The problem is, no one knows just how much to target social media when it comes to our wellbeing. Even so, there are some striking comparisons that cannot be ignored. The School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburg found that frequent users of social media are three times more likely to develop mental health problems. If this is the case, then social media must be going beyond the initial reason for its success – the ability to communicate and share things with people when you’re not physically with them.

Social media is not just about communicating with friends and family anymore. It opens up a perfect world of edited reality where users are able create the best version of themselves. This in itself is not a bad thing. By sharing what we think people might find interesting, we now have a source of inspiration and motivation right in our pockets (or most likely, hands) which has created communities who uplift one another. Sharing recipes, outfits, interior design, places to eat, places to visit… there’s not much you can’t find on social media.

However, the danger of this is that we are now starting to compare our own lives to these flawless images. For many, it’s no surprise that reality doesn’t add up. This is a greater issue for women, who make up 8% more of social media users than men. It’s a subject that Alyssa Westring refers to as ‘compare and despair’, arguing that the do-it-all image presented on social media is unhelpful for women. Yet, it goes beyond ‘unhelpful’ – it’s an issue of mental health.

This isn’t social media’s fault, it’s the product of evolution. This was the conclusion of Leon Festinger’s ‘Social Comparison’ theory from 1954, decades before social media was even contemplated. He found that we humans have an innate desire to evaluate our own abilities, and without any objective information to do this, we turn to comparing ourselves with others.

Next is ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ – #FOMO. It’s a term that was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013 and is now an ‘epidemic’ amongst millennials, according to Texas University. FOMO is a feeling, and it can stem from anywhere – viewing a friend’s Snapchat story from last night, to an eagerness to get back to What’s App for fear of missing the banter. The report from Science Daily says living life through this virtual filter is only fuelling “an anxious mindset that we must be ‘missing out’”. Again, this all boils down to the same issue. FOMO is a symptom of the wider problem – mental health.

Fuelling our innate desire to compare ourselves to others, along with the modern mental illness of FOMO, is addiction. Many users have become addicted to social media. According to Texas University, the average college student in the US spends 8-10 hours per day on their phone, and 24% of all teenagers are online ‘almost constantly’. But the youth are not alone, as this trend is emerging amongst all demographics. Regardless of social media’s plus points, anything taken to the extreme cannot be good for health.

So, what to do? Governments can’t exactly take our phones away from us, or limit our time on social media. Policies can’t force us to change our mindset, or banish negative thoughts, manifesting from convincing ourselves that we are not as good as what we see online. All governing efforts need to come from our own control. This is not as extreme as it may sound, and many people are already doing it. Whether that’s banning phones from the dinner table, or not using social media an hour before bedtime, we are choosing to adopt it on own our terms. In this sense, Jamey Wetmore argues that technology is making us more like the Amish. As each of us has an individual relationship with social media, we are forging our own complex rules on how we use it.

That’s not to say that collective initiatives haven’t been attempted. In January 2014, Real Simple magazine launched ‘Get Real on the Internet’ week, encouraging social media users to complete daily challenges posting about their imperfect selves. Just how helpful this was to tackling these issues is debatable, as it implies that social media is a dishonest, inauthentic tool. However, it does demonstrate the power that social media has towards bringing communities together and, perhaps more importantly, encourages users to be mindful about how they use it.

This is pretty much the advice across the field. The blog Tiny Buddha advises that we should aim to spend less time on social media, and use our free time to redirect our focus by doing something we enjoy away from the virtual world. Other advice includes being mindful of who we are comparing ourselves to and realising the limitations behind online profiles. What is important is that these are all suggestions – there is no ‘one size fits all answer’ when it comes to social media. Users should be empowered by social media and learn to control its effects.

As a final thought, there are 2.3 billion people who are active on social media. Policies directed towards social media must have the potential to apply to all 2.3 billion. Such a task is most likely to be impossible. As each of us has a different relationship with social media, we need to apply our own individual policies. That is, being mindful, and adopting it on our own terms.

RECIPE – Mince Pie Crumble Squares

Christmas is my most favourite time of the year. Not least because of one of its most important parts… food! The festive season is the perfect excuse to make extra-special treats to indulge in and for everyone to enjoy (not that I need an excuse!) When I think of Christmassy sweet treats, I think of comforting pastry, seasonal fruits and warming spices… aka the beloved mince pie. Since it’s December and the festive season is well and truly underway, I thought I’d go about making my own version of the mince pie. So, after a weekend of baking, I’ve created this recipe as a twist on the classic.

It takes the traditional mince pie and turns it into crumble squares. A mincemeat filling over a shortcrust base, topped off with a sprinkle of granola – the taste of Christmas in one bite. They may be made from totally natural and nutritious ingredients, but I’ve given them to friends and family, and they absolutely love them. Alongside a cup of tea, these are the perfect December mid-morning or afternoon treat. Alternatively, served with some coconut yogurt or cashew cream, they make a delicious dessert, too.

Ingredients:

Base
150g Buckwheat flour
100g ground Almonds
2 Flax eggs (2 tbsp milled flaxseed plus 6 tbsp water)
2 tbsp Almond butter
3 tbsp Coconut oil, melted
3 tbsp Maple syrup
Zest of 1 Orange

Filling
100g Raisins
100g Sultanas
100g Cranberries, dried
Juice 2 Oranges
1 tbsp Coconut oil
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground Ginger
1/2 tsp grated Nutmeg

Topping
100g Oats
25g ground Almonds
3 tbsp Coconut oil
4 tbsp Maple syrup
Handful flaked Almonds

Method:

  1. Place the milled flaxseeds and water into a small bowl, stir, and leave to sit for 5-10 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
  2. Place all of the filling ingredients into a pan, stir together well, then place on a low heat to simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Make the base by combining all the ingredients until they just come together. Transfer the mixture into a deep and lined baking tray (I use 20x20cm) and spread until it is even and tightly packed. Place in the oven for 10 minutes.
  4. Prepare the granola topping by melting together the maple syrup and coconut oil. Once combined, pour the liquid over the oats and ground almonds, leaving the flaked almonds out at this stage. Stir together until the liquid fully coats the mixture.
  5. Once the base has baked and the mincemeat filling has thickened, spread the filling over the base and sprinkle on the granola topping (depending how much topping you’d like, bake the remainder separately to be enjoyed as delicious granola, if there’s any leftover). Place back in the oven for 15 minutes, adding the flaked almonds on top halfway through.
  6. When the topping is crispy and the flaked almonds are golden, take out of the oven. Leave to cool completely before cutting into squares, and enjoy!



London’s Alternative Lattes

I absolutely love coffee, and there’s nothing quite like a good latte. Lots of us shake them up with different milk choices, like almond, oat and skimmed. At the festive time of the year, we might even add fancy syrups to make Gingerbread or Eggnog Lattes. However, the recent trend seems to be more extreme than this. How about ditching that shot of espresso for something else? 

Although I can’t think of anything that would make me give up my traditional latte for  good, recently I’ve begun to appreciate what else is on offer…

This has inspired my latest article for Pi Online: London’s Alternative Lattes. If you’re curious and want to find out the best alternative lattes that London has to offer, then give this a read!

Pimp your Porridge like the Champions – Pi Media

If it wasn’t already obvious from my last post, I’ve been pretty inspired by the Rude Health Porridge Championships that I attended 20th October!

Following on from this, I’ve written a post for my section of Pi Media, Lifestyle, about how we can all make our porridge more exciting. I’m not talking the wild and intricate creations seen in the Championships – though we all may wish for this every morning, there’s no way we’d find the time (or motivation, or skills…) at such an early hour. So, these are five easy tweaks to revive your morning bowl; the perfect breakfast (or dinner!) for this time of the year. 

Read the article online here

My morning at the Rude Health Porridge Champs

A morning of tasting some of the best porridge in the UK? Sounds like the ideal start to a Thursday, doesn’t it? It certainly was for me (even it I did end up missing my lecture…)

This week I went along to the The 4th Annual Rude Health Porridge Championships. Not that I’d heard about it before, I simply found out about it from the trusty ‘suggested events’ column on Facebook. Although, now I know to follow Rude Health online (their Instagram game is strong). But a morning dedicated to porridge just a short stroll away, how could I turn it down? The event description told us to expect porridge and coffee upon arrival and to enjoy watching some of the most highly regarded chefs in the game battle to create the best porridge. Though it turned out to be even better…

It was perfect porridge weather – a cold but crisp, autumnal day in London. So many foodies gathered into Waitrose’s Cookery School at Kings Cross all expecting one thing: Porridge. And we certainly got that. Upon arrival a big bowl of porridge was bubbling away, ready to be feed the audience. Rude Health served up the newest addition to their cafe menu – autumn spiced sprouted porridge, topped with apple, blackberries and cinnamon. But this was only a starter; something to wet our appetite for all the amazingly inventive porridge we were going to be tasting. This was the surprise for me, and I was suddenly glad I decided not to have breakfast.


It may come as no surprise that the original Porridge Championships are held in Scotland. The current holder of this remarkably prestigious title is the co-founder of Rude Health himself, Nick Barnard. He and his wife, Camilla, came up with the idea of starting a business around the concept of “food made out of food” just over ten years ago, and now it’s one of the most successful health brands out there. It’s one of my favourites, anyway. His winning flavour combination was the Rude Health ‘Fruity Date’ recipe, making him a pretty tough judge to please. Alongside him was fellow judge Signe Johansen; chef, food writer and winner of the first Rude Health Porridge Champs. This may have something to do with growing up in Norway, she confessed, as the Scandinavians’ long winters go hand-in-hand with their obsession for warming grains.


Following the prepping and introductions, it was time to get started. There were some big names of the food world taking part, too. In amongst the first heat were Alex Hely-Hutchinson from 26 Grains, Bill from the restaurant chain Bill’s and the Michel Roux Jr Cookery School. They were given 20 minutes to cook-up their best attempt at a winning porridge; one with innovative flavours, a creamy, delicious texture and stunning presentation (it’s true that we eat with our eyes). At time- up, one bowl was given to the judges for scrutiny and meticulous tasting, the rest was let loose on the audience! The biggest surprise of the round for me, was the Miso Butterscotch Porridge by NOPI. On paper, I didn’t think I was really going to like this one, and although its flavours tasted quite confusing initially, the subtlety of the miso made it incredible. I also loved the entry by Punch Foods – Fig and Orange porridge with toasted hazelnuts. Simple flavours, but ones that I love.


After a short break, it was time for heat two. I was pretty excited for this one as Niomi Smart, author of my latest cookbook purchase, was making her Carrot Cake porridge recipe from Eat Smart. The judges said that you want to eat a porridge that you could scoff a whole bowl of, and this was the case with this one. For me, at least. I must admit that I went back for a few tastes! The warming spices of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg used will always be a winner and I loved the chunky texture achieved by using rolled oats. There were some savoury entries in this round however, including Maple and Fitz, a healthy eatery in Fitzrovia. In place of the bowl, the Turmeric, Maple and Pumpkin porridge was served in a mini pumpkin, and it looked so rustic and autumnal. The turmeric made me think of warming golden lattes, and I couldn’t help but think that would be the perfect accompaniment.


Once the judges had tried everything, the chefs had reached for a deserved hot drink and we’d devoured (I really mean DEVOURED) all the porridge, it was time for the results. I think everyone agreed when the judges said just how amazing the standard had been. This really wasn’t your average Thursday morning porridge you’d make a home. So much thought, effort and love had been put into the creations and it was undoubtedly reflected. Unfortunately, there could only be one that left with the Porridge Championships trophy yet, the judges admitted that it was a unanimous decision between them. And the winner was… Native, with their entry of Meadowsweet porridge, crab apple compote and Kentish Wood ants. No, that isn’t a misprint, though I definitely thought that at first! Based in the beloved Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, Native prides itself on serving only locally foraged produce. Fruits such as oranges and lemons can’t be grown in the UK, so in order to achieve a citrusy flavour, they used ants! It still feels like a totally alien concept to me too, but the fact they used only what they could find is pretty admirable. I know that Native has certainly gone top of my list of places to visit, but I can’t promise I’ll order the ants!

Veganism: Busting the Myths – Pi Magazine

The latest issue of Pi Magazine is out now and I couldn’t be more excited about it! It’s my first as Editor of Lifestyle, which means I was able to come up with my own ideas and really shape the section in the way I would like it to grow.

In this issue I wrote an article which tackles the stereotypes and misconceptions of a vegan diet. Although I’m not strictly vegan myself, plant-based does form the basis of my diet, and so I have often experienced these myths. Certainly to many, being a vegan is a way of life, but to others it’s a convenient label. What I wanted to show here is that labels, more often than not, cannot tell the whole story and that many connotations of the word ‘vegan’ are simply untrue. I did enjoy writing this one, so please give it a read!

As part of my new role, I also proposed, commissioned and edited the article on keeping a Gratitude Journal. I have yet to take up this practice up myself, which made it so interesting to read Mary’s take on it.

Pi Magazine is available across the UCL Campus now, and also online here: Issue 715. Be sure to turn to pages 30-32!

If you are a UCL student and are interested in writing for the Lifestyle section, both online and print, please join the Facebook group for more info.

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New York: Brunches + Rooftops

A guide to my two favourite things about New York: Brunches and Rooftops…

BRUNCH

Every Saturday and Sunday must involve Brunch. In fact, you can’t avoid it if you’re eating between 10am – 4pm. Anything you consume within this time period, is Brunch. But in order to have a New Yorker’s experience, dedicate a couple of hours out of your day, get together a group of friends and just relax into the weekend over great food. These are some places I’d recommend…

Sarabeth’s (Various Locations) – The famous Sarabeth’s. It’s a busy place, but with five locations dotted around Manhattan, it’s a must-do when in New York. Pay particular attention to the eggs menu – you won’t be disappointed.

The Penrose (Upper East Side) – If you head Uptown, the chaos of a Manhattan Brunch feels like another world. But in no way does this mean The Penrose has no atmosphere. Here, you’ll truly be in amongst the New Yorkers. The food, the coffee, and the cosy booths make this place a winner.

The Grey Dog (Little Italy) – The rustic, all-American interior is a good enough reason alone to go here. It doesn’t even feel like you’re out for a meal, with its laid-back and social atmosphere. Although there are a few other Grey Dog’s about, this is why the Little Italy location is my favourite. But, oh my, the Brunch menu is to die for too – everything from breakfast quesadillas, to vegan oatmeal (porridge!)

Wild (Williamsburg) – Another chilled location, but located in the hipster-ville of Williamsburg, this place is quirky. Make sure you head to the back which has a glass roof and swarms of greenery to create alfresco vibes. Everything is also gluten-free. Top tip: go bottomless.

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Left: The Penrose. Top to Bottom: Sarabeth’s, The Grey Dog, Wild.

ROOFTOPS

New York is famous for it’s rooftops, and they have to be one of my favourite things about this amazing city. If I ever bought an apartment here, a rooftop would be top of my wish list. Not many evenings went by where I didn’t visit a rooftop, and with the madness down below, they really are the place to be – whether it’s a Friday night or for an after work Summer evening. The views, of course, are breathtaking. There’s a cluster of them around the Midtown area, and many belong to hotels, but there’s little, actually no chance that you can do them all. So, here’s a few that I love…

Best View: PhD (Meatpacking District) Inside is the dance floor and outside is the picturesque roof terrace. With it’s situation lower down Manhattan, the views are spectacular (photos will never do it justice).

Museum Rooftop: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Upper East Side) One of the few museums to have a rooftop bar. It’s later closing time of 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays are the perfect opportunity to watch the sunset over Central Park.

Rooftop Garden: Gallow Green (Chelsea) Brunch, dinner or drinks can be enjoyed amongst a jungle of greenery in the middle of the City.

Quirky Drinks: Loopy Doopy (Battery Park City) A very small and hard-to-find rooftop, but they put popsicles into glasses of prosecco. Need I say more?

Best Atmosphere: Pod 39 (Midtown) This place just has something special about it. With it’s exposed brick decor and fairy lights creating the perfect ambience.

RareView (Midtown), Refinery (Midtown) and Rooftop 93 (Chinatown) are also great finds.

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Top: PhD. Left to Right: Loopy Doopy, RareView (both).