OPINION - Toxic social media? I doubt you've tried Find My Friends or Strava then

Katie Strick (Matt Writtle)
Katie Strick (Matt Writtle)

Don’t tell him this, obviously, and send me all the stalker/grandma emojis you want: but when it comes to curating his home screen, I reckon my dad’s got it pretty much right. Strava and Find My Friends. Those are the only two forms of social media he’s bothered about — and increasingly, I reckon he’s onto something.

Say what you like about privacy and PB point-scoring, but there’s something intimate and genuine about these forms of social media, both of which seem to have surprised even their creators for standing the test of time in this strange old age of filters and fake news. Find My Friends is reportedly booming amongst Gen Z, who consider it the truest form of friendship, and Strava has joined the ranks of TikTok and Spotify in hitting the 100 million user mark.

Perhaps that whole unfiltered thing is exactly why: you can’t fake your location, it is fiendishly difficult to fudge a run, and — this is the part I suspect might be the main attraction — you’re unlikely to spend hours on either app obsessing over a stranger you’ve only just matched with on Hinge. Well, unless you’re one of the increasing number of runners I know using Strava as a dating device (“no way, I didn’t know you lived near Battersea Park too?”), but that’s a column for another time.

Yep, I’m perfectly happy with my 106 Strava followers and my 17 Find My Friends contacts, both made up of a funny assortment of uncles, old university friends and ex-flatmates (is it weird I can still see Hannah’s on her way to Aldi six years after she moved out?). I use them because they feel useful and genuine and I can see whether Georgie’s at home for a lunchtime walk, and that my sister’s made it home OK and that my flatmate’s not been abducted — she’s just at her parents’ house. Tell that to the naysayers slamming social media last week, when a new global study by the Oxford Inter­net Institute found that the internet has a strong link to positive wellbeing.

Don’t add your partner and definitely don’t add your boss, seems to be the resounding verdict

The one exception this particular study did make was for young women, whose wellbeing the internet was said to impact negatively — and here’s where I believe Gen Z are on a healthier track than my generation. Unlike millennials, they’ve grown up in an age where posting run club selfies on Strava is cool and tracking each other on Snap Maps (Snapchat’s alternative to Find My Friends) isn’t stalker-ish, but an expression of affection, “a new love language for the smartphone generation”, as one London twenty-something recently put it.

Any form of social media comes with its downsides of course. Sure, the dopamine hit of a bit of Strava kudos isn’t so different from an Instagram like, really (tell me you didn’t post that Richmond Park selfie to get your crush’s attention), and yes, I do have to remind my dad that his “I see you’ve hit the nightmare traffic on the A303” messages can come across as a bit creepy.

But if the latest form of dopamine-chasing means going on a run and if the main trigger-warning is choosing your friends list wisely (don’t add your partner and definitely don’t add your boss, seems to be the resounding verdict), I’m pretty sure this generation will grow up a whole lot healthier than those who sit around uploading photoshopped versions of their avocado toast.

Katie Strick is an Evening Standard senior feature writer and editor