Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

The #10YearChallenge shows that all social media wants is a simple, shallow story

The latest social media fad denies many of the lessons learnt over a decade to simply focus on a few wrinkles and grey hair

Actress Elizabeth Banks's #10yearchallenge. 
Actress Elizabeth Banks's #10yearchallenge. 

It is never advisable to argue with a 15-year-old: it goes nowhere, and I am always defeated by a logic that is both shallow yet lovably true. This was the case when I was ­chatting with my friend’s ­daughter over the phone this week, ­praising her maturity and the fact she is doing really well in school. I ­suggested that she take part in the latest ­online fad, The 10-Year-Challenge, with the ­proviso that she details her journey to ­becoming a gifted athlete after ­recovering from the physical and emotional ­trauma of a car ­accident in Abu Dhabi as a nine-year-old.

Inspirational, right? Apparently not – the idea was shot down as soon as it left my lips. “Yeah right,” she said. “The whole thing is just a beauty challenge.”

At least she could see it for what it is. And I have to admit, it made me somewhat dispirited – with social media fast becoming our ­dominant form of communication, it is ­concerning to me that it ­continues to appeal to our base instincts for ­reductive hashtag trends.

Social media is all about life's greatest hits

Over the last week, my feeds have been inundated by friends and acquaintances posting split-screen shots of portraits taken a decade apart. Almost all of the posts ­focused on how people have physically changed, talking about “how time just flies so fast”.

I was surprised by how enraged I was. Here were my trusted friends, some of whom went through the hell of divorce and financial ruin, reducing the great growth they have made in a decade down to a few extra wrinkles and grey hair.

Then I looked at my own social media feed: my Instagram posts, which go back to the day I joined The National eight years ago, are ­littered with me on trips, having ­coffee and going to gigs. It took me half an hour to get from the most ­recent Instagram post (of me posing with the latest singer I interviewed) to the first one – no wonder they said time flies.

What my posts don’t mention were the long and sustained periods of doubt and struggles I experienced as a result of living abroad, or a recent diagnosis of high blood pressure due to a previously unhealthy lifestyle.

My social media channels, I came to realise, are subconsciously well curated to resemble what I can only describe as “life’s greatest hits”. It traced a false ageing process, both emotional and physical, as a simple straight line devoid of the curves and U-turns that are truly the seeds of my growth.

Let's do our own #10YearChallenge

This realisation made me call an Abu Dhabi friend who took part in the challenge: I asked him why he chose to post only his physical ­transformation – he had lost an impressive 20 kilograms – but at the same time didn’t mention how he bounced back from a divorce that sent him into a long stint of ­depression four years ago.

He is doing well now, I reasoned, and what he learned over the decade would surely provide solace to those facing a similar challenge.

After going back and forth about it, he finally nailed down the reason why. “Because I am not with it yet man. I am happy, I am remarried and I am blessed, but I am still upset about the divorce and sometimes I still feel like I am going through it,” he said.

“Social media wants a simple story – a beginning, middle and end. For me, it was: I was fat, I trained my butt off, and now I am skinny. I posted that. Story over. You want depth, and that’s complicated.”

And it certainly is. The truth is we often age faster than we grow as human beings, and tracing the wisdom we learn from life’s cracks is an exercise so subtle and fluid that it is nearly impossible to capture in the static form of a social media challenge.

That proves that there are still some things worth talking about in person, rather than posting about online. So, let’s use the weekend to meet with our loved ones and share our own real 10 Year Challenge tales over a coffee. ­Because growing old is easy, but growing up is harder, and is ­something truly worth celebrating.

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Why this UAE writer is boycotting New Year's Eve

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Updated: January 17, 2019 06:27 PM

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