The advent of social media changed our lives — some for the better, others for the worse. Not to generalize, but it feels like our current generation is fixated on portraying life on the internet rather than living in the moment. Scientific progression and education in the fields of medicine and healthcare has caused a paradigm shift in which young adults place a special importance on living healthier lifestyles, which is evident in our increased average life expectancy. On the other hand, young adults catalyzed a significant inflation in the manifestation of mental health issues. Research has led to evidence supporting the negative impacts of social media on mental health.
The influence of Instagram, Snapchat and the like hits us even harder as college students. According to Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, these years are the time we face conflicts within ourselves and debate our identities. The autonomy that we as students experience allows us to take control of who we are as individuals and explore our values and morals which help frame our personal identities. This journey of discovering our individualities can very well be skewed by social media. When I scroll through my Instagram feed, I find myself bombarded with all these unrealistic stories and posts of people casually embarking on outrageous activities: taking the yacht out on a Sunday, nabbing tables at LIV, vacationing in the Bahamas, fancying over expensive date nights and cruising in Jaguars! This constant sensory overload of my peers’ extravagant outings once left me desiring all these sublime experiences. Onscreen it looked all too good to be true! This fear of missing out gave me a sense of addiction in which I wanted to consume everything that I couldn’t. I became so invested in these super-awesome-looking excursions that I forgot to question whether or not I would actually enjoy or should go for them in the first place. For example, I once went to a party — not because I really wanted to get out and take a break from the long week, but because my friends were going and I knew my social media FOMO would kick in later if I didn’t come along. Once I got to the party, I didn’t really like it because my motivation was external: I went only to look cool for others, not for myself.
There is nothing wrong with going out nightly or traveling to dozens of places, but it is important to know if that’s genuinely what we want to do, what represents our identities and what’s feasible for us given our own circumstances. As an international student from India who came to Miami for an incomparable education — to achieve my hopes and dreams and create a better future for myself and my family — I realized the security of my individuality did not come from partying every weekend or playing video games all day long. It did come rather from pushing myself intellectually, taking care of my friends and loved ones, being financially independent and going after my ambitions. It’s not like I don’t ever have a good time, but I don’t let my social activities dictate my life. My freshman year revolved around constantly going out, because at the time that was what social media tricked me into believing about how life should be spent. It’s critical to understand what we truly want in life and not be swayed by what the real or online society expects of us. To you this may mean studying all day, partying all night, somewhere in the middle or neither. Do whatever fulfills you personally, whether or not it’s Snapchat worthy!
During my time in quarantine, I began watching vlogs by David Dobrik and was highly drawn to them. Initially, I thought it was because I actually wanted to go on tables and have a blast, or perhaps because I was vicariously living through them. Over time, I realized that wasn’t the truth: I didn’t really want to attempt any of his experiments. In fact, imagining myself just trying them made me cringe. What drew me to these vlogs was the fact that they were authentic. These people accomplished what they enjoyed and were truly passionate about. Social media oftentimes pushes us to do what’s superficial or will be greater appreciated by society rather than what we aspire to do personally.
Back home in India, there’s an expression, “log kya kahenge,” which roughly translates to “what will people say?” The idea behind our collectivistic society is that the community’s thoughts matter a lot more than our own thoughts about ourselves. Therefore, actions are often determined by others rather than by individuals. Social media somewhat has the same effect. We are always seeking approval and validation from peers in the form of likes, comments and follows. The contrasting sense of security one feels with self-validation and self-love is lost because our self-representations are guided more by others’ opinions, consciously or unconsciously. I sometimes catch myself observing friends devote hours to capturing one flawless photo in perfect lighting, editing it, tweaking with filters and whipping up a witty caption. I noticed that they were putting way more time into how they presented themselves to the world rather than how they viewed themselves. I am not explicitly saying that what others think doesn’t matter and we should never care about what others say at all. We just need to regain that ideal balance which social media has altered.
You may feel like I’m portraying social media as this destructive monster hindering our human development, but that’s not the case. It just obscures us sometimes from fully realizing the world. Social media can play a role in your development, too: It’s an endless gateway to exploring people and cultures initially unheard of. It can also boost your self-confidence through positive reinforcement from society. At the end of the day, we are social beings, and society depends on us just as much as we are dependent on it. But it is crucial that we trust ourselves and our judgements and appease each soul not through other people. Questioning what make us who we are, what we won’t budge and what we seek change in helps us grow closer to our hearts and mitigate social media’s isolating magnetism.
words_devarsh desai illustration_jess morgan