Falling into the abyss? - living in the age of social media
It is only recently whilst completing an online digital marketing course that I fully comprehended the impact of social media on peoples lives as consumers. And that is one TINY fraction of the total impact social media plays on peoples lives in general...
I am a millennial (or generation z depending on who you ask) and so, my teenage years were drastically shaped by the advent of social media and smartphones which transformed the way people live their lives, how they communicate, who they can engage with etc. Truly the last twenty years have seen the beginning of the global age of technology as the internet now seems to shed a light onto every crevice of the entire world. From my formative years, I was taught to communicate via social media. It was "the norm" for my generation and has intensified for every subsequent generation since. The internet can tell us what to like, what to hate, what to wear, who to date and we don't have even to leave our bedrooms. But the results of this unprecedented virtual experience have had mixed results.
There is certainly a Frankenstein-like element to the internet. When it was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world in 1991, its creators had NO idea of the impact it would have on the lives of millions upon millions of people. The internet is a chasm of unimaginable proportions but it is only recently that the world has paid attention to its damaging social effects. It is now possible for anybody with access to the internet to become a political extremist (a concept known as cyber terrorism), to become a victim of cyberbullying and/or to have their mental health compromised by the utopian lifestyles bombarded at them by the rich and famous. For children and young people especially, more needs to be done to educate their carers about the potential negative effects the internet on children's formative years, and to educate young people on how to take control of their privacy and their online presence.
I recently watched The Social Dilemma (available on Netflix btw) and was not unsurprised that suicide rates for young girls in America have risen by 150% in a decade; as a direct result of the all-consuming presence social media has on their lives. This is a worldwide problem and it is by no means limited to young girls. It is exceptionally easy to get stuck-in-an-internet-rut, fixating on a certain look or ideal and comparing your self and your own experiences to other people. It is refreshing, however, that I have seen more and more influential social media figures highlight that content posted on their social media is an aesthetically pleasing snapshot of a much larger, often uglier picture. Reminding yourself of this fact is essential to having a healthy relationship with social media and maintaining good mental health in the digital age.
As it stands today, many young people are being groomed to communicate entirely through social media at the risk of destroying their ability to make genuine, long-lasting connections with other people. Learning to put the phone down, and respond to online content at your own pace is an important lesson to learn - you don't have to be online 24/7 - you are not a robot!
But, there is another side to this coin. After all, I am communicating with you through the medium of the internet and my blog is advertised via social media. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted to diverse groups of society that social media can have a tangible, positive presence in their lives. During the pandemic, it has allowed millions to communicate with their loved ones via video calls and continue their careers online. In a world where physical contact is limited, virtual connections take on a deeper significance and the internet enables us to do this.
In the "global age", social media allows you to form connections with people across the globe and broaden your horizons from the comfort of your own home. For many, especially over the last year, it acts as a source of self-expression. I have loved nothing more than seeing a number of secondary instagrams flourish on my feed as my friends have created accounts selling arts, jewellery, reviewing books and a plethora of other things. Without the internet, these talents would have been recognised is a far more low-key provincial manner but as it is, they are thriving and I couldn't be prouder. Ultimately, the internet is a double-edged sword and whilst it makes many of us feel exceptionally lonely at times it has meant the global population has never been more connected. Having an "online presence" has allowed people to express themselves in a fluid, unique form and THAT is the beauty of the internet. Social media has built careers and sky-rocketed people to the height of world influence but it can also shoot them down ( a la "cancel culture"). It is important to stay grounded in the tangible, consider your social footprint and think before you type.
I am lucky that I am currently enjoying a healthy relationship with social media, engaging with and "following" a diverse mix of people that I admire and whose content inspires me. Achieving this balance is not always easy and I always make sure that I make time to curl up with a book and switch my phone off every once in a while for sanity purposes! The impact your social media newsfeeds has on your mental health cannot be undermined so ask yourself - are your followers a positive reinforcement of your own values and identity? There is nothing quite like a "follower" spring clean to keep your newsfeed relevant and relatable to yourself. Finally remember to set your privacy settings to a level you are comfortable with - happy scrolling :)
- Ellie x