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Who Are We Without Social Media?

Updated: May 12, 2020

This post, unfortunately, may not resonate much with readers over the age of thirty or maybe even twenty-five, which makes up the majority of my following, so I deeply apologize. But on second thought, I think most of you already don’t relate to my “new to the real world” struggles–at least not presently–so maybe you can still enjoy this one just a smidgen. I want to talk about something that has been on my mind for years, but that I’ve never tried to fully dissect. I suppose now is as good a time as ever, so let’s have a chat about the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media. Spoiler alert: it’s mostly ugly. Or maybe I’m just a pessimist. That’s up to you to decide!

I feel extremely lucky that social media was only budding when I was in those terrible early teenage years when you already want so badly to fit in and be cool without online pressures attacking you even after the school day is over. I remember getting Facebook near the end of grade six, which seems crazy young looking back. I was among the first of my friends to create an account since my parents were so “chill” and didn’t worry too much about me doing stupid things online. And they were not wrong for doing so; I like to think I was a rather responsible child, a people-pleaser since birth, so I wasn’t trying to get into trouble or attract online predators, which was the main concern for most parents when the online world emerged. I was already irrationally terrified of getting kidnapped well before Facebook came into existence, so there was no way I would be idiotic enough to let someone track me down on the Internet and snatch me up on my short walk home from school.

After Facebook came Twitter, at least in the order of my own discovery of social media outlets, and I loved tweeting all sorts of stupid thoughts and quotes. The 180-character limit was fun and exciting and while restrictive, it forced Tweeters to shorten their probably already dumb contemplations into succinct phrases that likely made them funnier and/or more inspirational. We all know I can ramble on for decades and repeat the same crap over and over, so this limitation just might have been my saving grace. Twitter was fun for a while, and I continued to use it all through high school and even a few years after before deciding that my funny tweets were maybe more embarrassing than humorous and that nobody actually cared what I had to say. I do look back and think my posts are pretty hilarious, but I’m not convinced the rest of the world would feel the same. Although it is nice to have a collection of so many random memories and thoughts that mark distinct phases of my life. I suppose social media can have its perks, but as promised, this post will mostly explore its ugly side.

The worst of the worst–or best of the best, depending how you look at it–came along when I was in grade ten. It was near the end of my fifteenth year of life that Instagram arrived in the app store to bless and curse all of humanity for years to come. Upon discovering Instagram, I naively believed it was merely a photo editing app and didn’t understand why people I barely spoke to at school kept “following” me. This means I unknowingly posted every single photo I edited onto my profile, which I thought was a private collection and not a public showcase for all seven of my unwanted followers to see. That’s how Instagram began for me. But oh has it ever changed.

Since those humble beginnings, Instagram has become a multi-billion dollar platform (I totally made that number up, but I think it’s a safe assumption with its ever-growing popularity) where slightly above-average humans become famous and make boatloads of money for their posts, where brands focus the majority of their marketing campaigns, where people go to wallow in self-pity as they see thousands of beautiful girls with unrealistic bodies posing on yachts in Greece or drinking Aperol spritzes in Italy, and models with perfect everythings posting flawless selfies insisting they are “just like us!” while Kardashian-Jenners convince millions and millions of women that they need insane waist-to-hips ratios and butts that are impossible to achieve without a plastic surgeon. Needless to say, it can be a toxic, detrimental, and unhealthy place where so many of us find ourselves scrolling eternally, wondering why we don’t look that way, why we don’t have that much money, why we can’t go on luxurious vacations every other month like everyone else seems to be doing.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is SO much good that has come from social media platforms like Instagram. People from all over the world are able to connect, whether to find other humans with similar struggles, or to create communities of passionate, likeminded individuals who want to improve the world in some way, or to spread news about refugee crises and abortion laws and human rights issues… There are countless ways that connecting online has enhanced the state of humanity and has brought people together through tragedy and fear and major world issues. That is truly amazing and maybe, when we focus on those aspects, it might outweigh the bad. The craziest thing about all of it, though, is that no generation after mine will know what it is like to live in a world without social media. And that is scary.

I still remember the moment I started comparing myself to other girls and looked in the mirror and thought, for the first time in my life, that my body should look different. I was always a skinny kid, and one day I looked in the mirror and thought I wasn’t thin enough. This was before my Instagram days. I think I was thirteen years old, and to me that seems too young to be analyzing and critiquing the incredible body you live in (not that there is an acceptable age to start doing that; we should just skip it altogether), but what about now? Kids have Instagram in elementary school. They have access to all this BS far too soon, and if thirteen-year-old me could be so brainwashed by what she saw in the media even before it was flooding my phone, imagine how easily that self-loathing crap can eat up a ten-year-old whose only concern should be convincing her mom to buy the Dunkaroos she snuck in the grocery cart when she wasn’t looking. They should not be even remotely concerned with reading the ingredients list and obsessing over calories and grams of fat and how they might look if they eat the Dunkaroos. They should just be thrilled that their parents let them get the damn Dunkaroos and eat as many as they can get their hands on.

But the negative side of social media, particularly Instagram, goes beyond just the way it can imprint an unhealthy body image on so many; it also convinces us that our lives could be better, that we could be happier if we owned different things or lived in different places, if we dressed a certain way or shopped at certain stores, if we had certain careers and made a certain amount of money. Of course, this can go both ways. It can surely be positive if viewed as a source of motivation or as an introduction to different ways of life and career paths that inspire us, but it can also lead us to believe that who we are, where we are, and what we’re doing isn’t good enough when in reality, it is.