My roommate just came off a two-month-long break from Instagram, something a social media junkie like myself would gawk at. She broke her cleanse, downloaded the app and scrolled through photos for 10 minutes before the negative mental effects of social media began to weigh on her again. Without a second thought, she immediately deleted the app again, put down her phone and returned to life in the real world.
Since summer, my roommate has made the bold decision to delete nearly all the social media apps off her phone, caving every once in a while only to find that she hadn’t been missing out on much. She is not alone in these revelations. In fact, she’s a part of the growing 64 percent of Gen-Z members who are taking a break from social media. Further, a survey of over 1,000 people from 18-to-24-years old revealed 41 percent of young people think platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat make them feel anxious, sad or depressed according to a survey conducted by the research arm of Hill Holiday, Origin. Consequently, more and more young people are actively choosing to detach from social media, arguably a crucial part of living in the modern age. Still, 77 percent say having a social media presence is more beneficial than it is harmful, so why is there such a disconnect between users’ actions and mental states?
Instagram is easily one of the most dominant platforms among Gen-Z and millennials, but it is also the most toxic. Long gone are the days of taking middle school selfies, applying in-app filters and posting photos without a care about engagement or having a “nice feed.” In 2018, whether (or not) you’re an obsessive user, posts are clearly more curated with carefully thought-out captions, filters, angles, expressions and countless other considerations. As a result, such curation has allowed individuals to build entire platforms and careers on Instagram. The real toxicity of the platform isn’t in the resulting comparison between individuals; instead, the toxic nature of Instagram comes from the level of curation itself. No one is that happy all the time. No one is that perfect all the time. When that’s all you see, however, it becomes increasingly harder to believe.
On a more personal note, here’s a quick inside look into my Instagram process. First, I’ll make a point of going to a destination with a friend to take photos. After filtering through the hundreds of photos, I’ll narrow it down to 10 or 15. I edit those select images in the photos app before applying a filter in the app VSCO (C7 all the way). Next, I’ll narrow that down to four photos I like, which I import into the organization app UNUM to see which one fits my feed. Lastly, I’ll send the photos to my roommate to see which one is her favorite, come up with a caption and then finally upload to Instagram. This whole process takes upward of an hour — maybe even two hours. Needless to say, whenever I ask my roommate which photo I should post, she rolls her eyes.
I detail this process not to emphasize my narcissism, but to highlight the ridiculous measures we go to for likes, comments and the sake of a personal online “brand.” We have to step back and ask ourselves the fundamental question: Why do we do this?
If this column hasn’t made it clear enough, I see social media as a critical resource for discovery and opportunity. Between my professional and personal social media ventures, I spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating how to craft content online that will impact life offline in some manner. Constantly putting on this show, however, is not just mentally taxing — it’s unnatural. At no point in human history has nearly 30 percent of the world’s population put themselves on a public platform accessible by almost anyone anywhere. Face it: We can barely manage our own lives, let alone keep up with hundreds of others’. Information overload takes over when we are constantly presenting ourselves while comparing our lives to others’. The worst part is it’s become so second-nature that we often don’t even realize we’re doing it.
When I was interviewing candidates for Reach, USC’s social media club, one of my favorite questions to was: “Where do you think social media is headed?” In the past decade, we’ve allowed ourselves to become consumed by social media, but with more and more people quitting various platforms, it is clear that the way social media currently functions is not sustainable. Even though my social media presence sounds obsessive, I, too, have scaled back significantly and have chosen to post only what makes me happy and confident for the sake of my own mental well-being.
At the end of the day, it’s about balance. Our interwoven existence with the online world isn’t going anywhere, so quitting social media entirely and too wrapped up in it are equally futile. Ultimately, a digitally present individual should allow social media to organically reflect real life, not wage a constant battle between their real and digitized selves. My extensive Instagram process probably isn’t changing anytime soon, but my ability to live a healthier life both online and offline is.