Simon Thackeray

Some blunt dental views from Yorkshire

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Social Media isn’t the Real World

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Social Media isn’t the Real World

No one can have missed the inexorable rise in the use of social media for virtually every kind of interaction we experience in the modern world. From a few users 10 years ago there would appear to be now virtually every corner of the globe unaffected by it (except for maybe some long lost Amazonian tribes – lucky them).

Dentistry has not been slow to embrace this revolution, and as a mechanism of disseminating information world wide, sharing new techniques, and even asking advice about a case, then it there is no doubt that is it hugely helpful. Accessing social media though our smartphones is perhaps the most common application of this media, and it is thought that phones are now become part of the way in which we experience life, and how we form our memories. Certainly, creating a virtual scrapbook on our social media persona that shares with other people is something that will help you look back on events perhaps differently to how you did in the past.

But I worry that some people don’t understand the dangers of social media enough. I’ve written about this before on this blog, and the majority of what I said then holds true now. But there now seem to be some people who take the whole social media thing to be a benchmark by which they should measure their own lives against. There is a relatively new Facebook group called ‘Mental Dental’ which was set up to help dentists with some of the challenging mental health issues that can occur in our profession. Personally as someone who has suffered mental health issues in the past, I think it’s a pretty crass title, but the ethos of the group is actually a pretty good one. Whilst much of the time it might be seen as a moaning forum, there are some quite worrying threads that appear from time to time, and it may be that having this type of forum is beneficial to those wanting to ask advice, or just offload anonymously.

However, one of the recent threads that drew my attention was a post about how a practitioner felt he or she was so unsuccessful when compared to all the other dentists who were posting their personal and professional successes all over social media. This concern was so great in this practitioners mind that they were considering leaving the profession because of it. There has always been a degree of ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’ in all aspects of our lives, and until one becomes satisfied with themselves as a person, there might always be a tendency to search for success via the medium of materialistic gains. However, what struck me in this case was what appears to be the sheer despair this person was feeling, and all as a result of what some people post on social media.

Social media to this person had become the real world, and the posts of amazing composites, perfect implants, and then fast cars, and exotic holidays was seen as the absolute reality of other peoples lives. The superficiality of such posts is obvious to many, but not to others who may already be suffering from a change in their perception of the world due to the mental health issues that appear to be quite common in our profession. It might not be so easy to ignore these sorts of posts when someone is feeling depressed by the profession, and the damage that this can then do could potentially be quite serious.

There seems to be a lack of humility generally on social media that is behind these types of posts. Whilst it is everyone’s right to post what they want and when they want, certainly the ‘Look at Me aren’t I great’, or the so-called ‘Humble brag’ type of posts sometimes serve only to sometimes make other people feel negatively toward the poster, or more worryingly, negative towards themselves. There is no background to a social media post usually, so the context is completely lost. Does the poster EVER have a bad day? Do they Ever have things go wrong in Clinic? Have they ever worried about their Health/Finances etc.? Given the tone of many of the posts we see, the answer to all the above appears to be no.

It’s important then to keep in mind all that happens on social media is NOT necessarily true, and that we should look more deeply into posts like this. It is vitally important that we should all keep in touch with the real world around us.

Social media is here to stay, but it needs taking with a large pinch of salt at times.

©Simon Thackeray, GDPUK Ltd, 2017
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Simon has been a GDP since qualifying in 1991, initially in the NHS, and since 2005 in private practice in Nottinghamshire. He is a critic of the increasing and often unnecessary bureaucracy surrounding dental practice. As a practice owner and Yorkshireman having to deal with this, Simon has a tendency to direct and forthright comment, especially when it gets in the way of true patient care.


  • Richard Charon
    Richard Charon Wednesday, 04 October 2017

    Social Media isn’t the Real World

    Hi Simon,

    Probably a timely reminder to us all and yet... you have touched on an interesting aspect that certainly affected me for very many years.
    I qualified in the mid 1970s in Manchester. No social media then. Computers were something run by IBM in vast offices with probably less computing power than we all carry in our pockets today. Social interaction between professionals was either via the "old-boys ( and girls) network - so reunions, small gatherings of the folk we qualified with and so on or at larger gatherings at post-grad. education meetings (no CPD then either) and perhaps LDCs (Never joined one), BDA meetings (very few meetings attended in the early years I kept away - see below) and later perhaps at the equivalent of Dental showcase type meetings. All I ever seemed to hear was what people were grossing last month, how big a car or house they had just bought, which fancy holidays they had just had etc etc. Frankly I couldn't be doing with it and could relate to none of it. So I withdrew from almost all social contact with other dentists for very many years. I felt I had little of nothing in common with them. Yes I turned up to post-grad. meetings from time to time ( I'll always remember hearing Peter Dawson at The Barbican at a BDA conference. I only attended to hear him). I felt was the original "Billy No-Mates": Usually kept myself to myself. Talked to no-one. Kept my head down. Kept plugging away ( literally with amalgams) to keep my head above water whilst combating ruthless principles and trying to raise a family. Then came GDP (UK) . Always an early adopter for many things, I got quite active in its early days. Then came Mr. Frank Taylor, BAAD,( after approx 20 years) and some Marmite business coaching to allow me to start to raise my head above the parapet. Then Twitter and later Facebook and Linkedin (beginning to sound like Telegraph Road! lol). As a direct result of "getting published" and the use of social media, I am now a platform speaker (most recently by invitation of the BDA!). I teach and mentor internationally. I became something other than a faceless High St. dentist. Now I have dental; teams and individuals from Harley St to the Hebrides asking for my advice and opinions ( yes on very specific matters). It didn't happen overnight and I have spent a great deal of time doing it but it (Social media) has changed my professional life but in a good way - it so happens. So it is less the tool than how you use it I'd say. I let all that stuff about which restaurant we ate at last night or whatever etc etc wash over me and even if in a clumsy way, use it for my own benefit. I even talk to other dentists at meetings now Simon- If I can get a word in edgeways ;). I do agree though. Be careful out there... :)

  • Arthur Cooper
    Arthur Cooper Wednesday, 01 November 2017

    Social media can sometimes be cruel

    Simon. While there is a lot of truth in what you say, that is only a very small part of what gdpuk represents. We have all learnt much from interaction with our colleagues. Without it many of us feel really isolated from our peers. I hope we are mature enough to take some posters' views with a grain of salt and not obsess with the equivalent of the teenage need to be stick-skinny with a thigh gap, hair to the waist and thousands of Facebook "friends".
    I enjoy your blogs.
    Keep writing.

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