As I scrolled through Instagram for the 89th time today, randomly liking a semi stranger’s photo (because I feel dreadful if I scroll passed without giving it some appreciation), I began to wonder what is the actual point of social media? Instagram, Facebook, Twitter all of them, what are we doing? We hear arguments, discussions, disagreements daily relating social media use to our mental health. We are moving forward into a world where we have to accept the majority of us have a virtual life. I know I have opened myself up to people believing they know me from reading and watching a version of me I upload onto social media. Whilst I do believe I give as an authentic representation as I can it is only that, a version. You will never know the full me from just reading the words I type on here.
So if we are not portraying an authentic representation, if social media is not a true portrayal of our lives or a realistic reflection on how we live our day to day lives then really what the heck is the point?
Why are we driving ourselves into dark voids of comparison, insecurity, miss-trust, for some even debt to keep up with a constant need to buy another product marketed at us? Even influencers, those of us who market products to followers, are now warned of the effects their marketing reach and influence has. Posts are now featured with #AD or #gifted to not cause mistrust as to whether we truly love a product or not.
A platform has been created to benefit off our insecurities and our need to be our ‘best selves’. Our insecurities are now feeding into a new economy of impulse buys and fear of missing out. I know in my early 20s I used social media in a different way, because social media was different. It wasn’t the commercial platform it is now, with a reach of millions. Instagram was a platform I use to upload over edited photos from my iPhone to. I didn’t even realise it was a platform. I thought it was a photo editing tool I could edit and then upload to my Facebook account which was then used to upload statuses in the third or first person depending on my mood. It would predominantly be around ‘I am so hungry, eating crumpets yum, can’t wait to see the girls later, woo!’ gripping content I know. I now look at how I use all platforms and it couldn’t be further from the above.
Facebook and Twitter were always used to connect with friends. I remember back in 2012 a friend I had made at an interview tweeted me saying ‘fancy a night out, you can stay at mine?’ within 30 minutes I was out drinking in her home town. This type of connection would never be formed on Twitter in 2019. Facebook has become a platform for close friends and family, and small businesses to organically grow. Twitter is a place for complete strangers to share their feelings and to perhaps be too honest, and Instagram well it really depends on how you use it. For some, they have turned a full circle, and become a real ‘authentic’ user. To some, it may be over sharing but trying to prove that reality does exist and they use their platform to help reach others in a way Twitter has managed, to show that we can all struggle sometimes. Then you have the other end of the spectrum, users showing their ‘best life’, using it as a showreel and creating a virtual life they want to make everyone believe is real.
I may sound cynical and that is because I truly am. I can believe that the location, the glossy photos, the incredible figure, the lovely hair, the smiles the perfect outfit are all real but I can’t believe the smile sticks and the emotions and motivation is high every day because it is not human it is not real life. I also know from experience it is very rare that was one shot and we move on. There are often at least 10 bad photos for every one good. If it is not real life, then what the fuck are we doing spending our time on it? Is social media a real dumb waste of our time?
I toy with this question so often. Yet there are many situations I would have never been in without it. Without social media, perhaps I would not want for so many things? Would I be on this constant marketing loop? I always want new sports wear for the gym, nicer clothes, glowy skin, better hair, a straighter nose with a bright white smile. Without it would I crave this level of new make-up, every kind of makeup? Would I want to be to be as fit, or to be more intelligent? I want to read every book I am recommended, listen to all the podcast, travel to every destination, eat at every restaurant. I need to ensure it’s ethical and to avoid feeling bad I probably should stick to vegan-friendly places, equally if it’s very instagramable that is ok because it will look good. I want a nice house and home furnishings everywhere with plants growing down my overfilled bookcase. I want a nice car and to always be buying Starbucks in my reusable mug and to look like I don’t really have a day job but yet still have all this money to pay my mortgage and for all of the above. Without social media, maybe just maybe I would live my normal life, without spending my day wanting a bit more.
I have always wondered without social media would relationships be better? Would we be worrying about who else is liking our partner’s photos and how they know them? Would we worry about how their exes compared to us as we would have never known them, or never at least encountered the version they want us to see. When relationships break down would we harbour fewer feelings for someone we once cared about because we can no longer keep up with their every move? It is so easy to stay hung up on someone when you ‘see’ them every day. We are always told to delete people off our pages like a press of a button and they are out of our lives for good. but they are not, their little world still exists online too.
Social media can cause insecurities in a myriad of ways. Without it would we have fewer? Would we compare ourselves less or was this always the natural progression of marketing and consumerism for us? The economy needs us to spend, companies need us to spend, we go to work to spend, so without social media, would this level of marketing and influence have seeped into our lives in another form?
Without social media, I know my time would be spent simpler. I would not discover as many brands, eateries, hotels, books etc. Would I be happier? Maybe, I don’t know. Has the Netflix series Black Mirror hit the nail on the head and given us a horrifying look into our future?
Despite its negative press, social media has connected me to many different people who have helped me in different ways. I have connected with people who understand my mental health wobbles. I have met people who share my love for posting our lives online. I have grown closer with friends who live in different places because we can bond other common interests we wouldn’t have time to learn naturally. Yet through Instagram stories, and posts online we can see share similar interests in books, listen to the same things or like going to the same places. I have met boyfriends I wouldn’t have met because it is too expensive to go out all the time, and if we are out we know we can go out and enjoy just being with our friends because of social media, married and three kids by 30 is no longer a social norm and it is shared feeling by many.
Without social media, I would have never found the confidence to write, to post my words online. (although I am sure some of you wish I hadn’t). But this world has changed me in unimaginable ways. I am a different person to the girl I was four years ago when I started this. I am more confident, more ambitious, friendlier, kinder, happier, I know more and I have more to say. I know I can achieve things wildly out of my comfort zones. I can now appreciate people criticising my work without receiving it as a personal attack. I have learned new skills, building this page, editing photos, learning algorithms, and yes without social media this would probably not be important, but the world is evolving and online reading compared to print is incomparable. It is moving forward with the times and trying to stay up ahead.
Without social media, we wouldn’t have a platform to highlight and share areas of expertise or interests we are passionate about. We would not be able to highlight issues left uncovered by the media. We would not be able to put across an honest portrayal of what really happens in the world. It is a platform to encourage, to educate or to offer an opinion on. It is a platform which encourages discussion instead of a one-sided editorial about someone’s opinion there to digest at leisure which sparks nothing whether you or agree or disagree because without social media there would be no way to discuss and challenge these opinions. I believe that without social media we live in a world where social norms are generated by those at the top. Predominately white privileged men. Our lives would continue to meet their expectations and needs.
Social media, behind the glossy photos and the millions reinventing themselves, has given people a platform to speak up, a soapbox to stand on, to shout from, to gather momentum and crowds to make voices on issues heard. They have brought people together, built relationships, connected people, created friendships, collaborations, endorsements, sales. They have helped small businesses propel themselves into markets which would have before costs thousands to penetrate before. Social media yes, of course, has its setbacks but it has given everyone the opportunity to grow and support in ways that were only possible in communities before. Communities only found in small towns, burrows and villages, but the magnitude of this new community is now not restricted to those in the surrounding streets it has gone global.
Whilst I feel we have a long battle with social media, balancing mental wellbeing with our need to engage on a social level, I truly don’t believe social media is a waste of our time. You take what you want from it. It doesn’t need to be money-making, it doesn’t need to be something you invest time into if you don’t want it. Take from Social media what you want. Be kind and only follow accounts that genuinely spark excitement, inspiration and motivation into you. It can be an incredibly powerful tool if used carefully.