If you are an American student between the ages of 18 and 22 living on a college campus, then you have almost certainly been informed—at least a thousand times—that social media has us all “doomed.” The rapid development of social networks, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, has given rise to an irrational fear which prevails among everyone from parents and teachers, to news reporters themselves.
We are continuously warned of the many ways in which social media can harm us—how Facebook leads to comparison and self-judgement, Instagram cultivates self-centeredness, and Twitter encourages mindless distraction from the present moment.
Of course, all of this is true to some extent. Certainly nothing fruitful will come of resentfully scrolling through a friend’s “Spring Break in Cabo” album when you yourself spent the whole week sick in bed, nor is it sensible to waste an hour at the beach racking your brain for the perfect caption, when a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean lies before you.
My intention, however, is not merely to regurgitate a clichéd argument against social media. Although I have experienced irrational bursts of envy while scrolling through my newsfeed, or succumbed to the mesmerizing pull of my phone, I would be lying if I said that social media has had a purely negative effect on my life. In fact, in some ways, it has helped me to more deeply value life itself.
The process of capturing, editing, and posting a photo on Instagram entails a unique element of self-awareness and reflection. In seeking the most natural lighting, the ideal angle, and the perfect filter, we are essentially striving for the best way to capture and represent a moment in time.
Some would argue that we are better off putting away our phones altogether and being engaged in the present moment itself. Perhaps that is true, but still, there is something to be said about the significance of caring what others think—about the principle of wanting to display yourself in a way which highlights your most valued qualities.
If we are to fear anything at all, let it be of indifference and oblivion. Although social media can be a dangerous source of distraction, it also paradoxically provides us with an incentive to become more aware and more engaged in our surroundings—to notice the aesthetic appeal of our strawberry-topped pancakes and black coffee in the morning, to appreciate the view of Gasson as the bright red leaves are swirling in the wind.
Even if an individual’s primary motive is to post a stellar picture and receive a record-breaking amount of likes, the quest for the photograph itself—for the ideal combination of time and space, of color, and of company—evokes a sense of awareness and gratitude for the circumstances that comprise our daily lives.
In a certain sense, the use of social media allows us to represent ourselves to the world as a collection of our favorite moments, places, and people. There is something extremely gratifying about having the power to decide which pictures and posts will comprise our personal stories.
In choosing the most complimentary lighting, background, and filter, we are essentially determining how we want our experience to be interpreted, not only by others, but also by our future selves.
Ten years down the road, we will look back upon our Facebook albums, tweets, and Snapchat memories as representations of who we once were. If putting a Valencia filter on a photograph of your teenage self or viewing your breakfast as a work of art helps you to remember your past more fondly, then so be it.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to show your best face to the world, or with seeking to represent yourself in a way that will make others like and respect you. That is, after all, what most of us do everyday, in everything from our daily conversations to the way that we dress.
Of course, there is a fine line that has been crossed when one’s desire for respect morphs into a fixation on impressing others. As long as we are cautious of going to such extremes, however, I believe social media should be viewed as a valuable aspect, both of our generation at large and of our individual quests to know ourselves.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor