Full Text of Leslie Coutterand’s talk about Social Media Addiction and how can we use these amazing creative platforms to benefit the world and avoid the negative impacts that it causes at TEDxMarin conference.
Notable quote from this talk:
“With my posts I shape your world. With your posts you shape mine. In this hyperconnected world, our digital habits have a long term impact on ourselves, our society and our planet”
Leslie Coutterand – Former actress, Speaker and Activist, Founder of ‘Logout & Tune In’
Two months ago I was in Zimbabwe. I had just come out of the bush after completing a wildlife course and sustainability program. I was dirty, tired, but happy.
In the first town, I worked in a pharmacy. Its shells were mostly empty with a few dust covered medicine bottles, and then I saw the pharmacist and I’d start talking to him.
As I was speaking, a poster next to him caught my attention. It was an old advertisement for well-known cosmetic brand and the face on it looks surprisingly familiar. I stared at it and suddenly adjunct, and I told him, “That’s me.”
He looked over, shook his head and was like, “No, that doesn’t look like you.”
I was like, “No, no, no, it’s me. Just look closer.”
And then I looked back and I realized, he may be right. There was photo-shopped greening on the beach, slapping on some sunscreen as my picture-perfect husband and two kids run behind me. But it wasn’t the real me.
I was looking at a stranger in a different life. A life where whatever it presented was more important than who I was.
So for most of my adult life, I was an actress. I was the lead in a young adult TV show. And then one of the leads in one of a France’s most viewed TV show for two seasons. I came to Hollywood looking for fame and fortune and ended up being bored and frustrated.
I felt as though these dreams I was chasing, they weren’t mine. They’ve been placed on me, conditioned in me.
So this dream conditioning, as I like to call it, started in my early childhood. I was initially inferenced by some childhood traumas. I grew up with the feeling of not being protected, understood or heard, and I was transfixed by what I discovered on TV and magazines.
I discover something and I quickly noticed that the more people had celebrity, beauty and possessions, the more, they were respected. So since, I was lacking acceptance, confidence, and security, I looked for what the media imposed on us as an image of success, and I tried to copy it. And that’s how I ended up choosing the acting career.
I chose media driven dreams and ambitions to heal my childhood wounds. This conditioning accelerated massively during my twenties. As technology and social media era truly blossomed. You see the social media and smartphones turned forward have been limited to TV, magazines and newspapers into something that follows us everywhere. Yeah. Even in the bathroom.
So all day images are flashed to us in three second post. It generates feelings of need, lack and competition. The social platform that were originally set up with the best of intention became quickly the largest, most powerful social conditioner of all time. And it’s pushing everyone to display their ideal life and to watch their ideal peers. And that I was good at. I was really good at it.
So I wasn’t an obsessive poster or a selfie addict, but in my a bit more than average usage, I was already crossing the line, not because I was posting, but because of why I was posting and what I was trying to get from it: Constant, instant free gratification.
I was staging my life and I was rewarded for it. All my social activities turn into an opportunity for a good picture of me. After a breakup, I would put the best selfies and some force smiling pictures of me and my beautiful friend. Even though in reality, I was in bed at 9:00 PM alone… crying a lot.
One of my last photo-shoots, I was in the swimming pool. I was being splashed with water, smiling seductively at the camera. The photo completely unrepresentative of what was happening. I was self-conscious, freezing, got water in my eyes and it was burning and the worst, I wasn’t even paid for it.
What was I doing? It was then in that pool I started to realize that none of this made sense. None of this matters. I had only agreed to the shoot because I knew it would provide me with some new Instagram worthy images that I could post and then I would get my daily rush of dopamine.
I had to question my identity at this point. I created an avatar life based on the attention and validation of others. In truth, my passions were environmental and social activism, spirituality and mindfulness and human progress.
So what would happen if I quit acting? If I started to be me, will people still like me? Would they think I failed? Would they think I’m not enough or worse, Normal.
I was ashamed, but mostly I felt lost. So I took out a list, I wrote down years ago of goals and dreams, I was trying to achieve. And then I wrote a second list of what moments in my life I was the happiest and when I felt the most like my true self.
The two lists were completely different.
The first list: Academy awards, fancy house design of bags, cool car.
Second list: Hugging trees, talking about love and philosophy, contributing, discovering countries, cake.
The two list made me realize I had to do something. So first I went to buy a cupcake and then I decided to change and that’s how I quit acting.
So then my mum was scared. My banker was furious. We don’t have to go around that. But my transformation had to come from inside. I started with self-reflection, meditation, and self-love.
The more I started to accept and love myself, the more my compassion expanded and I started to look at the world with a sense of purpose and I was looking for meaning and that’s why seeing my former self in this little pharmacy in Zimbabwe was such a shock. We looked alike, but we’re two different persons. One was living her life while the other was faking it.
So why am I telling you all of this?
Because I want to help others, avoid the wrong list and set free from conditioning.
With my filtered selfies, I was sending the message that to be accepted, loved, and respected, we need to rely on a distorted reality and values that the consumer society has passed on us.
With my like and share buttons, I was taking part of a system that initially made me unfulfilled and secure and addicted.
With my tags, I was promoting companies I boycott now, and I was encouraging an economist system I question today.
A study by the group, common sense media revealed that teens spend an average of nine hours per day consuming media. Pew Research Center shows that 24% of teens go online almost constantly and 35% of them want to become YouTubers, which is fine, but most of them don’t even know why.
Many studies show that our current social media consumption can lead us to depression, addiction, self-doubt, and unhappiness. That social media algorism create echo chambers and reduce our exposure to new IDs
So how can teenagers learn to know who they are, develop self-love and feel free or have their own choices if they’re constantly conditioned by these addictive media?
So I got out of the funny tech-driven social media frenzy for me. But on top of that, my experience taught me something:
With my posts, I shape your world. With your post, you shape mine. In this hyper connected world, our digital habits have a long-term impact on ourselves, our society, and our planet.
With our posts, like, or share, we are approving a behavior, a choice or a vision.
With our post, like or share, we give more power to the message underneath the post.
With our posts, like, or share, we vote for our future.
So how can we use these amazing creative platforms to benefit the world and avoid the negative impacts that it causes?
For those of you who are influencers, you can reach hundreds of people in a second. Think about the message you’re putting out there. For those of you who have kids, help them understand their need they have to post and remind them that social media isn’t the real world. It’s a tool that can be used for the inane or for the beautiful.
And if you have friends who post selfies constantly, instead of liking the pictures or roll your eyes, realize it may not be narcissism, but quite the opposite. Maybe a need to belong and need to be loved… A need to connect. Try to read the message underneath the post, reach out beyond the screen, have a coffee.
So a French philosopher Sahabi said:
“For super technologies, we need super conscious.”
Well, I think this is our big next cultural challenge to raise their consciousness and bring humanity to the material and bring more connection, mindfulness, and authenticity to our digital world.
The good news is we’re not passive participants in this hundred billion dollar industry. And now that we know how the game works, we can play it for good, promote what we love, what we value, what matters.
And then perhaps when we learn to control social media rather than it controlling us, we can create a new world, a world where any one of us could walk in this tiny, tiny little pharmacy in Zimbabwe.
And instead of seeing a fake glossy Ad, we could find a crowd founded medical product that is helping children around the world, or the result of a social media groups that empower women, or any of the hundreds of thousands of remarkable thing we can change and improve with social media.
And this is the world I dream of. Thank you for listening.
– Leslie Coutterand