“My name is Alexia LaFata, and I have been using for nine years” is something I imagine I’d say if I were to enroll in a rehab-esque group for people addicted to social media. And when I say “using,” I mean I have been instant messaging and social networking since I was nine years old.
My first AIM screen name was d2bgirl1, my dad’s oh-so-clever way of “chatspeak”-ing the phrase “Dare to be the number one girl!” (which, apparently at age nine, I was?), I soon graduated to more mature AIM screen names, including dancinghippo36, sunshinedaisy87, thewackyone, and my personal favorite/the one that I kept for way too many years into my adolescence: shoppingchick921. Once AIM became obsolete (a tragedy that I’m still mourning) and replaced by Facebook (I’m just going to skip over MySpace because MySpace was awful), I could no longer grace the Internet world with my amazing and creative screen names, much to the dismay of everyone. Following Facebook came the explosion of Twitter and Instagram, and now everyone seems to be on more social media bandwagons than they know what to do with.
Even though it’s exhausting, social media is an incredible way to keep in touch with friends and family. I have reconnected with so many people via social networking, from my distant relatives in upstate New York to the boy I had a crush on in kindergarten who moved to Virginia. I can easily share a great song with one of my friends by Tweeting it at her or posting it on her Facebook wall. I can quickly go to my favorite artist’s Facebook page and find concert tour dates. Social networking is our outlet to news, gossip, our favorite bands, comedians, and actors, and everyone we know. As much as some of us will deny it, we really do need social networking.
There are also some obvious negatives to social media. Whenever my phone buzzes with a new Facebook notification, a new Instagram “like” or a retweet on Twitter, I will naturally always check it, even when I should be studying for a test or writing an essay. I’m always mindlessly scrolling through my various newsfeeds for something, anything, to spark my attention, so the possibility of ever truly doing nothing is out the window. Social media is addicting, distracting, engaging, damaging, and everything in between.
I clearly have a love/hate relationship with social media. I marvel in the positives and am aware of the negative effects it has on my life. And while being a social media freak might make me seem like I have a lively social life, being absent from social media can have the same effect. There is something really great about those times when my Twitter page doesn’t have lots of recent Tweets, or when my last Facebook post is from a week ago and the rest of my page remains dormant because for those past few days, I’ve been involved in real life. Yes, real life. That weird thing that was around before Facebook. I’m getting extremely tired of Facebook pressuring me to post exactly “What’s on my mind” when I’m just trying to be actively engaged in my life. Facebook is like an annoying, clingy boyfriend who blows up my phone and wants to know what I’m doing every second of the day. Just let me live, dammit! I’ll give you a summary later.
So, not only are we constantly supposed to be documenting our lives (I mean, pics or it didn’t happen, right?), but now we also must worry about portraying an online image of ourselves that may or may not reflect who we are in real life. Think about it-via your profile picture, the pictures you’re tagged in, and the statuses you post, you can be anyone you want to be. A girl on Facebook might have lots of smiling, skinny-arm photos of her with biddies with captions like “future bridesmaids over heeeere!” but in reality she may only be acquaintances with one of them and hate the rest. Another girl tweeting semi-cryptic, heartbroken lyrics from “Somebody That I Used To Know” (just so the world knows that yes, ex-boyfriend, you treat her like a stranger and it feels so rough) will automatically have the image of being sad and dejected. We post pictures of the places we want others to know we’ve been to with the people we want others to know we’ve hung out with. We post quotes from the artists and the TV shows we want others to know we’ve listened to and watched (I know you don’t actually like that weird alternative indie band enough to “Like” it on Facebook and are just doing it in the hopes that your crush will stalk your page and think you’re eclectic and deep – two things you are totally not! I’m onto you!). Even if we don’t realize it, each part of our Facebook is carefully handpicked to form the person we want to present ourselves as online.
Maybe I’m being too cynical here. Maybe I should just shut up and let people vent and document and do as they please. Or maybe what we all need to do (myself included, since I am just as guilty of all of this) is take a social media breather every once in a while and reflect on the kind of person we are displaying ourselves as on the Internet. Is this person really you? Is it false advertising? Do you want to be seen the way in which you are presenting yourself? Better yet, maybe it’s time to stop worrying about our image online and just be more present in our non-cyber lives. When we are fully present, we are freed from the stresses of social media updates. We are not worried about taking a million Facebook pictures to document every single party we go to since we are too busy actually enjoying the party. We are not worried about writing “hilarious” inside-joke-type statuses and tweets to our friends during events because, quite honestly, nobody else (save for the two people who they are directed at) really cares. Besides, when it all comes down to it, real life is just way more, well … real.