As soon as you walk into a room, you perform a subconscious assessment of every other person there. You look left and right, and you ask yourself: how do I measure up in this setting? Am I the thinnest, or is someone else thinner? Is there someone here with less money than I have, or am I the poorest? Am I the prettiest, the ugliest or somewhere in between?
E veryone makes these assessments, whether they know it or not. It happens within the first 10 seconds you enter that room. Well, what if you did this every 10 minutes?
According to Time Magazine, Americans ages 18 to 24 check their phones about 74 times per day. Imagine you are up for about 12 hours a day. Do the math. That means you check your phone almost every 10 minutes. Most likely, the majority of times you pick up that phone, whether you mean to or not, you probably check some sort of social media site.
“Sometimes I take my phone and I’m like, ‘Yeah I’ll take a quick look on Instagram’ — and then I spend 30 minutes,” sophomore Luana Suida said. “It goes by really fast because I’m looking at pictures and I find it interesting. It’s a stimulus. If you are aware of it, it can be a healthy stimulus, but otherwise we spend a lot of time that we don’t have on something very unimportant.”
With Instagram and Snapchat at the helm of the epidemic, these social media sites are all consuming — a notion that students, professors and professionals admit. When you scroll mindlessly through sepia-toned Instagram shots, you are making those same assessments and self-comparisons.
Do I look better than this girl in a bikini? Are my clothes as expensive as this guy’s clothes? The comparing goes on and on. It’s unhealthy to compare yourself to others — especially if you are doing it 74 times a day, on a tiny screen, in a world where there is so much more beauty than that within the four inches screen held just beyond your nose.
On one hand, social media can be a wonderful thing. On Instagram, you get to share photos of the positive parts of your life with hundreds of people. On Snapchat, you can send silly faces to friends, family and sometimes that guy or girl you think is cute, but are too shy to approach. And Twitter can be intellectual or it can stay funny and charming. Sounds positive, right? Social media wouldn’t have lasted this long if there weren’t great parts about it.
“I don’t ever feel a mood change when I go on social media,” freshman Gabriella Tournour said. “I just feel happy when I post a photo. I think it’s a true happiness for myself because I really care about my feed, so I put a lot of time into it.”
However, psychologists agree that the negative effects social media can have on your mental health may outweigh the positives.
According to Forbes, social isolation and depression, ironically, stem from the very sites that are meant to keep us in touch with friends. Though you technically interact with people on sites like Snapchat, the interactions are short and usually meaningless — they last for less than five seconds as you click away the faces of your loved ones.
Social isolation at its root means you have little to no interaction with people at all. While not many people are completely socially isolated, social media forces us to perceive that we are. This perceived social isolation then leads to another mental disorder — depression. And the wheel just keeps turning.
While clicking through Snapchat stories of other people getting together without you, you start to feel more detached from, rather than closer to, society. It seems this “social” media we partake in only draws us farther from others, causing us to constantly compare ourselves to our peers and hating them when we don’t quite measure up.
A friend of mine wakes up each morning and stays tousled in her sheets for an hour before rising to face the world. She calls this hour her “social media time” — an hour devoted to posting photos, keeping tabs on her favorite celebrities, liking and commenting on other photos and sending Snapchats to her streaks. Yes, a whole hour before anything else she does that day is devoted to staring into other people’s lives and judging herself against them.
People find “joy” in social media. The moment they post a picture, a sudden mix of nerves and excitement rushes through their veins. It’s almost like adrenaline. Except it’s not real. Photos posted on social media sites are more often than not, falsely elevated versions of what actually happened. That shining photo from a ritzy SLS pool party in South Beach? Yes, it probably looks flawless and totally fun, but in reality, those Instagram darlings took that photo and left, because the music wasn’t good and nobody was dancing.
Today, people are posting and over-posting. They post photos everywhere they go. The cycle is never ending.
“I like keeping my feed very aesthetically pleasing so when I go somewhere where there’s a cool spot to take a photo, I take it,” Tournour said. “However, I don’t feel pressured to take Snapchat stories everywhere I go — so many people do that. I only make stories once in a while, and in high school I never made stories.”
But are we uploading and posting more than we should? Oversharing is a prevalent issue regarding the use of social media.
Teenagers are documenting their lives through photos, only sharing the best and brightest of their shots — the ones they feel ‘sexy’ or ‘cool’ in. This dance we do on social media sites turns every life event into a competition over who can get the most likes or whose filter looks the least “filtery” – yes, people spend an absurd amount of time trying to make a “natural looking filter.” And what accompanies this sense of competition is also a sense of low self-worth when we just can’t compete any longer.
“Usually when I post something, it’s when inspiration hits,” Suida said. “My last picture was a little poem that I wrote, so when I posted it, I wasn’t nervous in that way, but I was like, ‘Oh, my god, I wonder if people are going to like it,’ not because of the picture, but because of the poem itself.”
Posting what inspires you can help others get to know the true you. What social media sometimes provides is a platform for people to create false identities — little utopias hidden behind filters and grain. After viewing a couple dozen different utopias, mental disorders like Body Dysmorphic Disorder can become a possibility.
Body dysmorphia is a disorder that causes you to overly obsess about a part of your body, believing it to be inadequate and in need of alteration. Dr. Bryony Bamford of the London Centre for Eating Disorders and Body Image says that social media use is a leading factor of this disease.
“The problem with social media is that it presents a very skewed version of real life – photos can be added with filters, experiences can be embellished, and life can be presented through a rose-tinted lens,” Bramford said, according to the London Centre’s website. “What that means for individuals who have a tendency to compare themselves to others, is that they are likely to be comparing themselves to a skewed reality of real life.”
The power social media has over you varies with each individual. It can be a place where you post a poem or short story you wrote to see if other people might connect with you on that level. Or it can be an artistic stomping ground to take, edit and position photos in order to create an aesthetic profile page. It can even be a place to find new friends.
However, social media has taken over in ways that are frightening, playing games in our minds as we try to navigate what is real and what isn’t. It is probably in our best interests to take a step back sometimes and “disconnect” from the whirlwind of the media. It’s fun and it’s artistic. But it’s also an addiction like any other.
words_isabella vaccaro_sidney sherman. model_ daniela_pagnozzi.
on print: design_alexa aguilar.