I often sit on the train and watch the person in front of me as they flick through their mobile phone. What I see concerns me. Often, they just refresh their Instagram or Facebook feed, over and over again, lingering every so often on someone’s new profile picture or upload of the photos from ‘last night’. What do they feel when they stare at these photos of other people’s lives? Jealousy? Insecurity? A sense of inadequacy? Probably all of the above. So why then, do millennials spend an average of over two hours per day using social media apps such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook?
You are probably expecting the writer of this article to be some middle-aged old fart, bemoaning the ‘state of the young generation’. But no. I am eighteen years old. I am a millennial too. I had Snapchat, I had Instagram, I had all the works. But I became disillusioned. And to be honest, it surprises me that the vast majority of my peers are so blind to the extent and toxicity of our insidious addiction to social media.
Blind to the absurdity of this mystifying need we possess to constantly check up on our peers’ lives. Blind to our seeming incapacity to enjoy a night out without taking countless photos to post the next day. Blind to the fact that girls choose what to wear based on what will look best through an iPhone camera lens.
I am worried for the future of my own generation. We seem more concerned with the persona we have cultivated online rather than with who we really are. Why? Why do we live such a lie? On a night out, all I see are teenage girls desperate to capture the moment to post on their Snapchat story. Hey look, they seem to say. I’m drinking, I’m having fun. I have a life. Do you?
This poisonous addiction is twofold. Not only do we have an incessant need to track other people’s social media accounts but also to constantly update our own. It is something of a vicious cycle, leading inevitably to a generation of insecure, insular and cagey individuals.
So I ask again: why do we spend so much of our lives on social media?
Certainly to some extent, we can attribute it to egoism; we want to make sure as many people as possible are aware of just how wonderful our lives are. But on a deeper level, is there also that intrinsic, primitive desire to compete?
So-and-so posts a photo of their holiday in Portugal, suntanned, laughing, drinking a cocktail. Joe Bloggs stuck in dreary London feels a twinge of jealousy. Said Joe Bloggs hits the like button but makes sure he captures his night at the pub for his Snapchat story, just to make sure so-and-so in Portugal knows he’s enjoying his life too. Joe Bloggs probably doesn’t really feel any better about himself.
It is an utterly paradoxical addiction; scrolling through social media causes us to feel bitter and insecure — this should be enough to makes us want to delete all of our accounts, to be free of the burden of our addiction. Yet somehow, it’s not.
I suppose most probably just try and pretend that the niggly twinge of jealousy and discomfort, as they scroll through their newsfeed or flick through Snapchat, isn’t really there. All I did was choose not to ignore it; I am by no means immune to the impact of social media. I simply realised that it was making me feel depressed, anxious and insecure, and chose to do something about it.
It has been proven that social media — on the whole — has a negative impact on our mental health and happiness levels. Participants in numerous psychological studies about social media have tended to experience a sharp decline in their moods after scrolling through mindless videos and pictures or snapshots of their friends and family.
Social media does not bring people together; it drives us apart. People become locked inside their own self-constructed virtual world, and develop a heightened sensitivity to how they — and their social media profiles — are perceived by others.
I believe that social media is utterly toxic. It is altering the way we live our lives, how we form relations and connect with our peers. We seem to value the virtual world more than the real one.
So be honest with yourself. Ask yourself this simple question: is social media really making you any happier?