My Ten Year Challenge

Over the last few days, I couldn’t help but notice the latest social media trend, where people are sharing a current photo of themselves with one from ten years ago. Some people look almost identical, some almost unrecognisable – but I suspect many of the photos have been deliberately selected that way. I mean, I look completely different in the photo above…

We humans do like to look back and compare and contrast our previous incarnations with the latest ones. I am not here to criticise this trend in any way. What some people have done with it is fun and clever, and often used to illustrate a serious point. Some examples that I saw or was sent yesterday alone include:

  • 2009 USB flash drive vs. 2019 LP – depicting the vinyl revival (lovely, lovely vinyl)
  • 2009 large room with double bed for rent in Dublin vs. 2019 small room with 2 bunk beds squeezed in, for the same price per person as the entire room ten years ago. And there are no doubt even more disgraceful price-gouging examples out there.
  • 2009 Margaret Thatcher vs 2019 pile of ash. Ding Dong the Witch is [still] Dead!
  • 2009 vs 2019 Arctic and Antarctic ice – massively reduced. And yet there are still idiots (many in positions of great influence) that deny that this is happening, or that it is being caused by human action.
  • 2009 vs 2019 US Federal Minimum wage: identical (or almost 15% lower when adjusted for inflation)

As for me, I’m not sharing any pictures (the one above is me being portrayed by an actor….). Things are very different though. This time ten years ago I was on the dole, doing occasional jobs here and there. I had a fondness for Buckfast and cheap cans, among other unhealthy habits. I was very directionless at the time, but since then things have looked up a lot. The world is going down the toilet, societally, environmentally, ethically, politically…. but I’ve bettered myself as a person in many respects. And aim to continue doing so, just not necessarily on January 1st every year.

I have not yet mentioned in this piece the name of the social media trend. And you may be wondering when I’m going to get round to criticising something, so here we go. The trend is called the Ten Year Challenge. And it is with the name, not in the trend itself, that I find issue. Why is it a challenge? Is it really a challenge to find a ten-year old digital photo and upload it side-by-side with one from today? No. Did the people using this hashtag set a goal ten years ago to change their image gradually and greatly over a decade, then share the results? No. This is not a challenge. The name chosen is another abuse of language. Climbing a mountain is a challenge. Doing a PhD is a challenge. Raising kids is a challenge. Kicking an opiate addiction is a challenge. Need I go on?

Using words so flippantly waters down their effect. Challenge is an important word and concept – it evokes something that is difficult yet rewarding. Using it for something as prosaic as uploading a couple of photos on social media cheapens it. Language abuse and distortion is rife in this age of disinformation; this is a minor example, but by disrespecting words and bandying them about we lessen their meaning, and blur the lines between real meaning, and misappropriation.

The idea of comparing things a decade apart has merit. It can be amusing and thought-provoking. It makes us reflect on ourselves and on the world around us, and how things can change so vastly and rapidly. It’s a pity that whoever came up with the concept didn’t choose a better name. Ten years from now, will the word challenge have lost so much meaning that the concept itself no longer exists? Nah. Probably not. But, then again, we may not even be here by then anyway, if we keep electing right-wing lunatics. In the event of us surviving their fallout, we would be faced with the challenge of rebuilding society from scratch in a nuclear wasteland. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that we’d have social media with which to share our endeavours.

It probably won’t come to that. We’re more likely to be driven to the brink of extinction later in the century through catastrophic environmental failure. In which case, I’ll still be here again ten years from now to reflect on this piece, and on how far the world has progressed, or regressed in that time.

In the meantime, see you tomorrow.

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