Internet Cultured: Finding the perfect digital hangover cure isn’t easy

When I think of summer, I think of endless sunny days, freedom from the everyday mundane routines and time to explore new avenues of self-expression. While some may have had such a picturesque season, I, on the other hand, had a summer lived through the internet (not as boring as it sounds, I promise). And as summer comes to a close, what do I have to say about social media? Frankly, I’m over it.

I mean, not entirely, but hear me out.

To clarify, no, I didn’t just spend the entire summer switching between scrolling through Instagram or Twitter on my phone (that would have been quite boring). Overall, I had a great summer filled with its pockets of adventure. I was in Los Angeles with my friends, I spent many weekends on the beach and I had my dream internship at an influencer marketing company. With all of those activities in mind, though, my work life and my personal life converged digitally. When I wasn’t posting about my own whereabouts, I was at a 9-to-5 where I had to critically think about brands and their relevance as they pertain to consumption via influencers.

Don’t get me wrong — I loved my job. I felt like I had spent my whole life preparing to discuss my knowledge of the social media sphere with like-minded professionals. But what was once a passion quickly watered down to simply being my everyday. 

To some degree, I liked the hivemind setting, as up until that point I had seldom found so many professional mentors who took a vested interest in being as serious about the field as I am. I watched YouTube videos as I worked — as did everyone else — only to turn around to my co-worker to spill the latest influencer tea. Later, I’d go to a meeting with a client to discuss how their campaign was doing in relation to how their social posts were performing on various platforms. The next day, I sat in on a trend report that laid out how the digitally-native Gen-Z population (me!) functions socially and as consumers. I was captivated by all of it, and I left every day feeling like a starry-eyed kid who, with the light from her phone screen reflecting in her eyes, had just been told all of her wildest dreams could come true.

Then I would go home, go to the gym (sometimes), hang out with friends, lay in bed, keep on scrolling and repeat.

My last column from Fall 2018 touched upon the dangers of intersecting one’s personal and digital lives too much, but instead of experiencing that from the influencer side, I got a good look from the outside-in on the management side. If the goal of this column is to dive deep into how the online world plays an active role in shaping our everyday lives, then my internship was the manifestation of just that. I pulled engagement rates on various influencer posts. I assisted talent at VidCon (the highlight of my summer, easily) and observed a brand activation I worked on come to life. I finessed my way into all the big influencer parties and watched David Dobrik bounce around filming his vlog. Simply put, it felt like my life had turned into one big YouTube video.

On the last night of VidCon, I had managed to secure the VIP of VIP wristbands to the biggest influencer party, where on the upper level of the House of Blues Anaheim I was rubbing elbows with all of the creators I admired growing up. As I looked over the balcony at a scene that looked oddly reminiscent of a USC frat party, I thought to myself, I’ve really made it. I had managed to be exactly where I wanted and more. But when I stepped back, I couldn’t help but still feel like something was missing. I was in limbo — present in a space that was relevant digitally, but beyond that, where was its merit?

During my internship, my company released a report titled “The Social Media Hangover,” which expanded upon how 51% of Gen-Z and Millennials dream of a life without social media. Ever since, I’ve been stuck on the word hangover when describing my tolerance for social media because, per the association of the word, I’ve had a hard time stomaching it lately. When I open my phone and scroll through Instagram, the intrigue is lost almost immediately. I can barely sit through a YouTube video anymore. Even the self-deprecating humor on Twitter that usually gets a laugh out of me isn’t doing it. 

But I’m okay with that. Instead, I’ve allowed my attention to turn inward, allowing me to contemplate who I am independent of social media: manifesting that outward by spending time with loved ones and tackling what physical life has to throw at me.

I was hesitant about continuing this column for a third semester because, despite my love for social media, my digital hangover made me feel that the whole subject was trivial and ready to be tossed. Even though I’m not presently as inundated with social media as I had been for the past three months, I must acknowledge that world is still out there and more powerful than ever. But I write about this subject mindfully, because while discussing TikTok, Instagram and YouTube in this space is all business, there are more things to see, scandals to be had and changes to be made. How we will relate our real lives online, then, will only continue to unfold as life churns on ahead.

I invite you to join me on my journey to find my digital balance throughout this semester. Welcome back to Internet Cultured.