Social Media Doesn’t Need to Stop. We do.
2nd September 2020
When I was 11 years old, I got my first mobile phone. It was bigger than my hand, and probably weighed more than a saucepan of baby spuds, but this did not ruffle my feathers too much. The only phone numbers I had were my family’s, and they were painfully boring to text with. They did not understand any of my ‘super cool’ text lingo, so I didn’t bother using the phone that much.
But then I hit the teenage years, and these block phones seemed to fall into the shadows behind the shiny new smartphones. Most of them retired to that drawer in the kitchen that is seldom opened; the one filled with old rolls of tape, Christmas wrapping paper, and that tool your dad uses to bleed the radiator.
Consequently, social media began to be a major thing just as I was hitting secondary school. Every day I heard about ‘Animal Farm,’ on Facebook and much to my embarrassment I never quite established what it was – but I knew that I was not missing out. I did not see the appeal in reading about my friends online. I spent every day with them, and I figured I already knew everything I needed to know. We were also taught about cyber bullying from a young age, and I was often advised to avoid social media altogether to protect myself. This led me to view social media as a problem I did not need, something that scared me. As a result, I did not venture into the 21st century until I was in my second year of secondary school.
I tentatively created my very first social media account on Snapchat when I was 14. I picked an extremely cringey username that I have regretted ever since, and I have continued to use the app every single day for the past 7 years. It surpassed my expectations and was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. The ability to talk to my best friends whenever I wanted was something that I got a major kick out of. Late night gossiping sessions and the frequent viewing of other people’s “best friends” lists became my social life; and since then, I have been building my profile on multiple social platforms.
Over my teenage years I heard a lot of negative things about social media and how it has been construed as an unhealthy place for us to be. Cyber bulling became more and more prevalent in everyday life as I got older, and I will never forget the AskFM phenomenon that disrupted countless lives and destroyed many people. Other notable soul-destroying factors that were often mentioned as I grew up were the use of photoshopping and the unhealthy comparisons so frequently made when viewing oneself against a public image that popular people had construed as the norm.
I always considered myself as a bystander in this drama. I was watching it happen, but I was never involved in this world. Yes, I had social media accounts, but the negative, scary sides of social media always seemed to go right over my head. Maybe it was my parents monitoring my internet usage that saved me from this, or maybe it was just luck.
But then I became an adult.
I was faced with a whole new world of people that I presumed were way cooler than me simply because of their presence on social media. I thought that the coolest cats were always the one that snapchatted their way through three nights out a week and posted hungover lecture snaps on their private stories the next day. Therefore, I figured that the “less desirable” members of the college community were people like me, the ones who didn’t really care about drinking and the ones who snuggled up in bed with Netflix and tea every night for 90% of the semester.
“Ironically, I became the main viewer of my own social media pages: re-watching my own stories, checking who had liked my photos, and stressing over a perfect caption for every single thing that went on my page.“
I have always danced to the beat of my own drum, even if I do not always like the sound of it, and I’ve carried on doing my own thing for as long as I can remember. But I am only human, and I became extremely conscious of my lack of Instagram content; and consequently, I felt obliged to get a ‘grammable’ picture every time I ventured past the threshold of my bedroom door – just to prove that I had friends.
Social media became the source of all my news stories, which in hindsight was highly questionable, considering that I am studying to become a journalist. I figured I was learning all I needed to learn, and probably getting real-time information from real people.
Ironically, I became the main viewer of my own social media pages: re-watching my own stories, checking who had liked my photos, and stressing over a perfect caption for every single thing that went on my page.
But a few weeks ago, on a very ordinary day, I came to an extraordinary conclusion after watching a friend of mine absentmindedly scroll through her own Instagram posts and zoom in on her face in every photo, all while having coffee with me.
After putting a different pair of glasses on, I realised that it is not just me that obsesses over their own newsfeed – this silent obsession has infected every single one of us. I always brushed it off as just a factor of Instagram life, but now I have come to the real conclusion. It is not the app that is making us do this. It is us and our perception of what we should be, that is created by other people who are also following what they think they should be.
And it is all FAKE.
Why have we become selfish robots who aspire to be perfect, or at least be the perfect version of imperfection so that we will still get dozens of likes simply for being ‘relatable’? Why is it the features of social media platforms that are mainly blamed for the disasters that ensue as a result of them, when it is the people using them that comment, criticise, and bully?
We did not get taught the absolute truth when we were in school. I was advised to avoid social media because it could hurt me. But it is not the app that will hurt me; Facebook is not going to jump out of my computer and punch me in the face. It is the world that can hurt me. It is people and this sickening obsession we all have with ourselves.
The solution to this social pandemic that is destroying us does not lie in avoidance of the App Store or at the touch of the iPad. It lies within us.
Social media does not need to stop. We do.
Featured photo by Josh Rose