Social Media: most of us use it, but at what cost?

The most successful people in life always turn their phone on silent. And I say this without a grain of evidence. Think of it as more of a belief, than a proven fact. It makes sense though, right? After all, phone calls from your parents in the middle of that interview for that dream job, followed by a disastrously inappropriate ringtone, is the nightmare waiting to happen.

And here lies what many see as the heart of the problem with social media, it demands our attention, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Not only does it distract us from everything else, but it also feeds our greatest insecurities, entangling our minds in unrealistic ideals of perfection, should such a term really exist.

Instagram has been blamed. My morning routine involves scrolling my feed, liking my friend’s post, tapping through stories and checking I haven’t lost any followers, or gained any without noticing – can you really be friends with someone you don’t follow on Instagram?

When I first downloaded the app, I was under the false impression it was the answer to most of my problems. I played rugby at school, but a slight frame combined with a disinclination to drink heavily made for automatic ostracization. I wanted to share aspects of my life that gave me more of a compatible identity with friends and family, I love my life, I feel comfortable in my body, I’d like to spread love to others. 

The truth was another story. Instead of improving my mental health, allowing me to recover from what would later become a severe mental health crisis, my desire to dress up the truth was destroying me, bit by bit. I kept my account after being admitted to a mental health hospital.

In fact, I’ve kept my account ever since. I also use Twitter, Snapchat and Linkedin to keep in touch with friends as well as professional contacts despite geographical distance. 

Truth be told, I still believe in the positive power of social media. It can change perceptions for the better, reverse stereotypes and improve lives. But all too often, it has become a false source of comfort I once believed could protect me from myself. At least I now know social media doesn’t define me, or anyone else. I sometimes wonder if, in spite of intending to make the world a more tolerant place, social media has instead made us all far more vulnerable. Last week Twitter cracked down on abuse and trolling by introducing a safety mode to silence abuse. 

Speaking from experience, I believe one of the greatest threats stem not merely from abusers per se, but rather ordinary people – friends and family – who log their lives and spread their philosophy with little knowledge of the consequences. 

Perfection is false. Our imperfections are the most perfect aspects of ourselves. And bringing the world closer together sounds like a worthy ideal, but has it brought the world too close together? Do we need more space? Finally if we do, in the context of an ever digitalising world, how do we find it?

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Sam Gordon Webb

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January 2022
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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