A few years ago, I wasn’t allowed on any form of social media, and the allure of something forbidden to me yet used by many of my peers caused me to spend almost all of middle school begging my mom to let me on Instagram. She finally relented when I turned 14.
Now, almost two years later, I’m starting to understand my mom’s reluctance. My generation is hopelessly addicted to the Internet- myself absolutely included- and I’m beginning to realize that social media is honestly overrated. And I don’t think I’m the only person who thinks so: the amount of people I know who have said they wish they didn’t have social media is, quite frankly, surprising. So why does everyone still use it religiously? Should we be cutting back? Is social media even that bad?
What Makes Social Media Addicting?
Well, for me…
- It alleviates boredom– My chronic social media addiction compounded severely during the spring and summer, for one reason in particular: I was bored. The hours I’d used to spend doing schoolwork or doing things outside of the house were easily replaced by my phone.
- It provides social validation– This is one of the most disturbingly strong pulls for me. I am decidedly not popular at school, or really anywhere for that matter, and I constantly feel pressure to post whenever I have a picture of me that doesn’t look bad, or if I have accomplished something interesting. This is bad. The more I think about it, the worse it seems, and I know I am not the only person who feels like this.
- It satisfies your nosiness and curiosity– What is really the point of social media if not an outlet for people to pry into other people’s business? But the question I ask myself is, why do I feel so compelled to check Instagram and see all the people from my school post their selfies? It doesn’t make me feel good about myself. So why do I always feel the need to do it? I went on an Instagram cleanse about a month ago, during which I unfollowed almost 150 people. No regrets.
- It has become a source for news and politics– This one is mostly specific to 2020… if you live in America, you’d know that we’re in the midst of a very heated presidential election race at the moment. And I mean VERY heated. As a result of this, social media is flooded with political posts. I can’t stop looking at social media to check out what people are posting about, and every time, I’m bound to see something that makes me angry or upset. Especially if I look on the explore page. Every time. There’s no avoiding it. And, perversely, that only makes me want to check more often.
- It’s designed to keep you coming back– my history teacher recommended the Netflix documentary “Social Dilemma”, which I haven’t yet watched because we don’t have Netflix. Or do we? I don’t know because I’ve never watched Netflix in my life. (Yes, I know, I’m so quirky). But I don’t have to watch that documentary to realize that social media companies benefit from your usage. I deleted Instagram for Lent in 2019 and in 2020, and both years, I was constantly bombarded with emails from Instagram begging me to come back and “check out what I’d missed”. And it’s so easy to get sucked into the infinite scrolling trap!
I’ve also noticed SO many weird social constructs and habits that I adhere to because everyone else does, and after a while, I’ve started to realize just how pointless some of them are.
Weird Social Constructs of my Generation
- Obsession with followers– My friend and I used to always compare how many followers we had on Instagram (“I have 315 now, how many do you have?”) which, taking a step back, is honestly concerning. This kind of conversation isn’t particularly harmful, but it demonstrates everyone’s preoccupation with social approval on Instagram. I used to get really offended if I noticed that someone unfollowed me, even if I barely knew them, because it made me feel like people didn’t care about me at all. I deleted Instagram for Lent this past year because I was just fed up with this kind of thinking
- Vapid comments– If you look at a girl’s post on Instagram, the comments will be FILLED with “so cute!” “so gorgeous!” “pretty girl!” “so pretty!” from all her friends. Everyone posts the exact same comments on everyone’s posts, and the weird thing is that they still feel validating. There’s nothing wrong with commenting nice things on people’s posts; I just find it disconcerting that these kinds of comments can become less of a compliment and more of a common social courtesy that you say to everyone. I always feel supremely fake as the tenth person to comment “so cute!” on someone’s post
- Judging people– I feel like everyone judges you on Instagram. I see people’s posts and I silently judge them. And I carefully curate my own posts to make my life seem more interesting than it actually is. Sometimes I find myself looking at someone else’s feed and feeling really bad about myself, because it looks like they have so many more friends than me, their life is so much more fun, they are so much more photogenic. That’s another reason I deleted Instagram for Lent; it’s not super great for my self-esteem.
- Obsessing over Snapchat streaks– I got Snapchat about a year ago, and I already barely use it anymore. In all honesty, I don’t understand how Snapchat is considered addictive… at all. When I first got the app, I tried to keep my streaks with everyone, but after a while I stopped caring. There’s only so many times you can send pictures of the ceiling to your friends before it dawns on you that Snapchat is kind of pointless… I mostly just watch people’s stories now. But it’s weird to me that people put so much effort into preserving their streaks.
- Fairy comments– Listen, I know fairy comments are supposed to be a joke but… some of them go WAY too far. I also just don’t like when people think “no *sparkle* *fairy* *nail polish* *heart*” is a legitimate argument rebuttal. Sorry! (I really don’t belong in Gen Z, do I…)
Are We Wasting Our Lives?
It’s time to answer the titular question of this article. Is social media wasting our lives?
Well, the answer isn’t a definitive yes or no.
Are there better things you could be doing with your life other than scrolling through your phone, wishing you were more like someone else, just trying to pass the time in quarantine? Yes, there are. But you could make that claim about almost any activity.
Does social media have some merits to it? Of course.
It can be informative and it can be fun. It can help you connect with people. The question is: have we crossed the line of dependency?
I know people who spend 14 HOURS on their phones every single day. That number has probably increased in quarantine, but even pre-corona, it was a rarity to see anyone at school not on their phone.
Would I be able to delete social media? Probably. Do I want to? Kind of.
But I don’t think the answer is necessarily to get rid of social media. Instead, I think we need to break our dependence on it. Like they always say, moderation is key.
What do you think about social media? Do you spend a lot of time on it? Let me know in the comments!
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