I had my first interaction with social media around the age of nine when I discovered AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Sometimes, I reminisce about the countless hours I spent chatting on AIM with my friends or with shady “robots,” which forces me to reflect on how much simpler times were in 2005. Much has changed since the days of Microsoft Paint, bulky computers and dial-up, especially in regard to social media and the internet. Thirteen years later, I am now 21 years old, and social media has reformed our lives in unimaginable ways.
When MySpace first gained mainstream recognition in the mid-to-late 2000s, parents, guardians and teachers found themselves in a panic over the ambiguity and complexity of cyberspace. Almost instantaneously and much to the chagrin of preteens and teenagers alike, kids all over the world began to suffer trite and endless lectures concerning the dangers of social media. While none of us desired to listen at the time, it turns out that the adults were right: social media has proven time and time again how treacherous cyberspace can sometimes be.
The world changed in 2007 with the creation of the iPhone. Suddenly, the internet was readily at our fingertips and we had access to information in a way that generations before us did not. Because of the iPhone, social media sites such as Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and Twitter have become the lens that dictates how we view the world. That’s how we ended up here in a world where so many of us crave acceptance and validation from people that we’ll probably never meet in person.
Social media sites, especially Instagram, have allowed for the creation of alternate and often immoderate versions of our daily lives.
Somehow, we have developed this idea that social media is a metaphorical window into someone’s personal life, though it’s been proven time and again that things are seldom how they seem. With the expansion of smart technology, everyday citizens, myself included, have access to powerful media tools that can rid us of impurities in our skin, make us appear thinner, apply picture filters to make us look “better,” and so on. It’s startling to think about the fact that, less than 10 years ago, only professionals had access to these same tools. Because you can say and post anything you desire on the internet, anyone who has the time and skill can make their lives appear flawless.
As a whole, we seem to judge people based on their social media posts—good or bad. One of the trickiest parts about social media is that there seems to be an ever-thinning line between what’s too much to share and what’s not enough to share—it’s either too much or not enough.
It seems that the facade of social media is getting vastly out of hand as people are trying very hard. These days, people of all ages, genders, backgrounds and sizes, are measuring their self-worth based on how many followers they have or how many likes they receive on any particular post. I know, because that was once me. It’s gone as far as social media users buying likes and followers on social media sites in order to boost their popularity.
Because of this, we are often left feeling as if we are in constant competition with others, again forcing us to question the validity of our space and our sense of self. In this “contest,” it’s impossible to win because someone will have always have more, be more or do more. I’ve had countless conversations with both men and women who say that they purposely stay away from the internet and social media specifically because of how low and meaningless it makes them feel, which is so unfortunate.
I don’t foresee the end of social media any time in the near future, so I plan to continue participating in a positive, socially responsible and uplifting manner. I’ve grown up with social media and have learned over the years that when used properly, it can reconnect old friends, provide job opportunities, grow businesses and connect you with great people from around the world. I strive very hard to stay in that positive space and always remind myself of the powerful lessons that I have learned over the past 13 years including the following: validation should only come from within. Those who really care about you are not at all concerned with your social media presence and the only person you should attempt to be better than is the person that you were yesterday.
Danaé Reid is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in African American studies. ✉ DR822867@wcupa.edu.