Hashtag harm: The evolution of social media

I've lost count of the times I've felt like throwing in the towel with social media. Don't get me wrong, it can be a great way to stay connected with friends and family, but in my experience, it's done more harm than good. I'm still on social media, sure, but most days I want to delete every app and chuck my phone out the window.

I read an article in Darling Magazine last week about our social media habits as a society. In it, writer Rachel Brown states, " ... if we’re seeking self-affirmation that can only come from internet-based feedback, we may need to reevaluate why we’re using social media in the first place."

Can I get an amen? 

The early days

There are so many social networking sites nowadays, but Instagram and Facebook are the two I feel are adversely affecting us the most.

I can't remember my exact age when I got social media, but I'm going to guess around 7th or 8th grade (hey, MySpace). It was a fun, carefree corner of the internet where we'd post photos, comment on each other's updates and — my favorite part — get to set a personal profile song (shout out to Matt Nathanson and Fall Out Boy). Those were the days ... (except for that whole ranking your friends in a top 8 thing ... that's just wrong).

When 2008 rolled around, Facebook was the latest craze for my generation. Initially, I remember thinking how boring it looked. While I missed MySpace's customization and familiarity, I eventually jumped on the bandwagon. I connected with old family members and high school classmates. I shared photo albums of treasured memories through the years. I made mundane status updates that I'd probably roll my eyes at now. That was Facebook in its prime.

I eventually caught wind of Instagram around 2010 (remember the days when everyone stuck to the Instagram preset filters?). It felt like a digital scrapbook at the time, posting pictures here and there, getting 2-5 likes here and there. What a neat concept, right? If only it were that simple now.

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Missed communication

I'm not exactly sure when things started to change, but they did. I was scrolling through Instagram the other day, looking at my friends and family's lives through millions of pixels. I happened to see how many people looked at my latest Instagram story ... and the first thing I noticed was how many of them I don't talk to anymore and more importantly, how many I haven't talked to in over a YEAR. (Did these people even know what I was doing with my life outside of what I shared online? Did they know my highs and lows of the past year? Did they really care?).

Now, I'm a firm believer that relationships are a two-way street. I've had so many one-sided friendships and for a long time, I spent so much time and energy fueling them. Eventually, it gets exhausting. The thought of losing friends — especially over something like not keeping in contact — makes my heart hurt. A couple years ago, I had a moment when I was texting a friend where I thought, "If I don't text this person, I wonder how long it'll be before they ever start a conversation and text first?" I soon realized that logic could be applied to so many more of my friendships. When did we get so busy that we didn't have time to type out a few words in a text? Reply to a text? Listen to a voicemail and return a call? (Don't even get me started on the old, "Oh, sorry, just got your text." No. Just, no). The bottom line is, people make time for the people they care about. Over time, I think social media has gradually pulled our attention away from the things — and people — that matter most. We get so busy scrolling through apps that we often forget to slow down and live in the moment.

Yes, social media is great for connecting with pals, blah blah blah. Except when it isn't. How many of your followers have you had good, genuine conversations with in the past few months? In the past year? I mean, seriously. Look at your follower list. If you didn't have social media, would these people remember you? Would they reach out in person, call or text, wanting to know about your life and well-being? Heck, how many don't interact with you at all, but follow you just to be nosy?

In a sense, it feels like social media has become a sorry excuse to not engage with our friends outside of the internet. It's as if the only interaction we have with some of our friends is a simple 'like' or 'comment' on one of our photos every now and then. That, my friends, is not friendship.

Standards of perfection

Social networking didn't use to be all about likes and follows, and it didn't always feel like an elite club we needed to fit into, either. 

As we all know, Instagram in particular is great at highlighting the good in everyone's life — how perfect their makeup and hair is, how clean and trendy their house is, how cute their outfit is, how amazing that trip to Bora Bora was. I mean, I understand not wanting to post a picture of you, unshowered, boogie in your nose, hole in your sweatpants, etcetera etcetera, but overall, Instagram has come to paint a fake facade of someone's everyday life. It quite literally feels like it's put a filter between our friendships. It's become this platform of comparison; a dreadful reminder of the unattainable standard of perfection we can only hope to achieve. Opening the app makes me feel like I've arrived at the Met Gala in stained pajama bottoms and a ratty, old t-shirt.

CTRL-ALT-DELETE

At this point you're probably thinking, "Why don't you just delete your social media accounts then?" Ah, my friend. If it were only that easy.

I've deactivated my Facebook account more times than I can count ... only for it to be accidentally resurrected when I log into Spotify since apparently they're connected. Go figure. In the same token, business pages (like the one for this site) are also linked to our personal accounts. The same goes for Instagram. While I've been toying with the idea of deleting my personal Instagram account, I have a business account linked to that as well. It's this big, huge interweaving technology trap! (Somewhere, far away, I can hear the creators of Facebook and Instagram laughing at me. Also, I'm still looking for a way to unlink them all so I'll keep you posted. Take that, social media creators!)

I'm not naive to the way the world's evolved since those simpler days on MySpace. Social media has become a powerful tool through the years and when used correctly, I truly think it can enhance our lives if we let it ... I just don't think we have. It's become this mind-numbing time suck. It's taken time away from our face-to-face-interactions. It's made us think, "I have to post this photo I just took right this instant. Hold on, let me get the right angle. Does this filter make my ankle look fat?" Meanwhile, we're missing out on real, vivid, 3D life happening around us. When did we get so enamored by a piece of glass and too busy for in-person interaction? And how do we snap out of it?

I've deleted a few apps from my phone to avoid mindlessly opening them, but I don't think it's just our use of social media that's the problem. I think the main problem lies in how we use it and how we let it affect us.

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I guess what I'm asking is this:

Are you constantly checking the amount of likes on each photo? How long are you spending editing that photo so it looks Instagram-ready? When was the last time you checked in on an old friend without using social media? If you deleted all of your accounts, would your people still be your people? Would they check in on you?

Social media is that annoying smudge on your glasses — demanding your attention but only until you get rid of it, can you truly see things more clearly. Our quality of life shouldn't be measured by the amount of likes on a photo and our relationships shouldn't be limited by our use of technology. These platforms are great ways to make connections and stay connected — but at what cost?

Social media isn’t all bad, though, and it certainly didn’t start that way. Things change, people change and the way we interact and consume information changes, too.

So let’s be intentional with who and what we’re giving time to. Let’s value deep conversations over likes and comments. Let’s acknowledge the messy parts of life. And most of all, let’s live life unfiltered.

 
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