Generation Comparison – Is it time to log out?
It is 2017 and we are constantly logged in. Logged in to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Gmail, Messenger – so much so that these online social platforms have become an extension of our beings.
Lately, I’ve started to notice myself checking my phone almost involuntarily, an unthinking act just like taking a breath. I become unsettled if I misplace it, mildly distressed until I can refresh my multiple news feeds and satisfy my subconscious cravings by mindlessly scrolling through absolutely nothing. Even when I know there is nothing of importance to check, no messages that I need to respond to, I retain the inexplicable need to ‘connect’ – which has got me thinking; is our compulsion to connect with something in the online world damaging our ability to connect in reality?
The sprawling world of the online is what we see first thing when we wake up and last thing before we go to sleep. In 2017, our reality is terrifyingly Orwellian; today, we hold Big Brother in our hands at every possible moment, perpetually connected to an IV of non-stop information, imagery and audio through our phones and other online devices. There is no such thing as privacy, and Western society appears to have developed the narcissistic need to document every moment of our lives in real time through constant updates to our Snapchat and Instagram stories. We have hundreds, thousands of social media connections who we pass on the street without acknowledgment.
We are Generation Overexposed, Generation Comparison – and that is the most sinister social media phenomenon of them all. Constant exposure to the curated images of Instagram and Facebook’s incessant status updates makes us question our own self-worth. We feel this immense societal pressure to keep up to date with rapidly changing fashion trends, to eat and drink at the newest, coolest spots, to show the world that we are extra-happy, extra-glossy and ultimate #goals all of the time. We are plagued by persistent FOMO: fear of not being aesthetically pleasing enough, fear of not having enough friends, fear of earning less money than the next person, fear of not travelling to the most desirable places, fear of not having a big enough ass, designer bags, the newest car…. Fear of not being good enough.
I don’t have a degree in psychology and I will never understand the incredibly complex workings of the human brain. But what I do know is how I feel after a day of heavy, mindless exposure to social media, and I know too that I am not alone. I am anxious, I am constantly distracted and fidgety, unable to pin my thoughts down or to focus enough to read even one chapter of a book. I am plagued by a recurring, irrational fear that life is passing me by, a weekly existential quarter-life crisis which inevitably culminates in an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy, unworthiness and failure.
Social media has instilled in us an innate need to affirm our lives and our choices through the approval of others (others who are often strangers). I read recently that the average person will spend a cumulative five years and four months of their lives trawling through newsfeeds on social media. That’s five years and four months that could have been spent travelling the length and breadth of the globe and back again. Five years and four months in which you could earn an undergraduate degree and a first class Masters. Five years and four months that might have been dedicated to cultivating real life relationships, fostering unity between cultures and making our world a better place to live. It’s five years and four months that we will never get back.
Of course there are undeniable positives to the social media revolution. At the touch of a button we come face to face with friends and family spread far across the world. We are just a free, instant message away from the ones we love, whether we are in Kabul or Caracas. The world has become so much smaller, so much more accessible through social media and this, I think, is for the better.
T.S. Eliot once wrote that we are “distracted from distraction by distraction.” Well I don’t want to be distracted anymore. When I was a child, I voraciously devoured books as if my life depended on them. At the age of nine, I could tell anyone who would listen about the life and times of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin; the volcanic structures making up the Indonesian island of Java; the history and dangers of nuclear power, to the point that I started a petition at school to shut down the Sellafield reactor in Cumbria, England in the back of a half-used A4 notepad. It makes me incredibly embarrassed to add up the days, the MONTHS I have wasted through social media addiction, and to think about all the things I could have read and learned to understand in that time.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative to remember that people are not letting you into their typical daily lives, but into a fractional and carefully edited part of their existence that they deem to be ‘social media worthy’. I once read a quote from an American faith and mental health counsellor that said “the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” If you find yourself deflated and a little insecure while scrolling through your newsfeeds, stop. By comparing yourself to others, you are damaging and devaluing your own worth. Nobody is you, and that is your power.
I’m not advocating throwing away your phone and disconnecting from every form of social platform there is. Social media is a part of our lives that is here to stay and it can be a wonderful medium of communication. But knowing the negatives that the online world brings to our self-esteem, our confidence and our ability to forge real life relationships, wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we ‘logged on’, ‘posted’ and ‘updated’ a little less, and invested in the wonders of reality a little more?