It is often said that my generation — prematurely dubbed with titles mocking our reliance on technology — only knows how to exist by maintaining an online persona via likes, comments, and interactions with people that we would have little chance of ever meeting face-to-face.
Navigating the online world is akin to walking through an active minefield; half of the experience is side-stepping content that’s been run through three different editing apps, and the other half is connecting with people and their mostly unfiltered life through their private accounts — the ones hidden from the rest of the world. Social media enables people to create different representations of themselves and control who has the ability to see each version. Yet, through all the micromanaging and editing, people tend to maintain the face that matters the most — their life beyond social media; humans are inherently bad at juggling several lives at once.
I’d lived for sixteen years without any social media platform, in part due to apathy, but mostly because my parents had warned me about its all-consuming nature. Two weeks ago, I created an Instagram account — my inaugural account. The resolve that I had earlier withheld me from joining the interconnected world eventually fell victim to the overwhelming isolation that came with being ignorant of my peers’ lives. Instead of discussing major events in our lives, I was instead met with prompts to check people’s Instagram Stories and posts. Each instance I revealed that I was without an account, faces would morph through an almost cyclical shock-horror and disappointment, finally ending in some variation of persuasion. That plea was predictably laden with unfounded concerns over all the supposed trends and content that I was missing out on.
When I created my account, I did so on the premise that I would use it sparingly, interact only with people who I saw daily, and maintain an ambiguous identity to maintain my privacy. It took one week for this promise to unravel, and spiral into a compulsion to refresh every time I had a moment to spare. My shift to dependency mirrors my generation’s tendency to mindlessly scroll through social media has gone unchecked. It is visible as my peers immediately pull out their devices while there is a lull in the classroom, or when they type furiously to avoid a catastrophe in the augmented world whilst narrowly avoiding a collision with something tangible.
Since the popularization and integration of smartphones in global markets in the late 2010s, access to social media has become unavoidable, creating a barrage of online content and ceaseless mental stimulation. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that most teens, about 70%, view anxiety and depression as a major problem among their peers, according to Pew Research Center. Already faced with mounting pressure over school and their futures, teens must navigate an online world that often only contains the best facets of their peers’ lives; the problem is that curated personas can facilitate feelings of inadequacy.
In the two weeks that I’ve been floundering in social media’s appeal, I’ve approached my usage with trepidation. Until recently, my life had not become entrenched by the constraints of online etiquette and the unsettling reality that my entire life and it’s ideal double could soon be defined and contained on a device that I often can’t be without. Before I joined Instagram, I asked myself if a social media presence was necessary for me to be able to interact and keep up with my loved ones’ lives, and upon channeling several years worth of isolation, I agreed that it was.
Several weeks older, I no longer think so. I became encompassed in building a character online; I contemplated posting something for my thirty-something followers to see, instead of living in the present and enjoying the company of my friends on our biweekly restaurant trips. I’m still not sure what the purpose of that post would’ve been besides to display my purported social presence.
In and of itself, my introspection has led me to wonder if I could ever pull the plug on my account, and like most people, I probably couldn’t. I’ve simultaneously felt the most connected and disassociated to society because my attention was divided between living two different lives—one of which reflects the person that I aspire to be, and the other being real life and all the failures that come with it. Before I received a Walkman music player, before the integration of the iPhone, and before I became intertwined in the online world, I felt satisfied with my existence as it was. Perhaps, archiving our second identities and separating from the iGen moniker may not be such a bad thing.