In lieu of the (not so) newly allotted time on our hands, many of us have experienced an increase in screen time since the initial Corona lockdown in March 2020. In a recent study, Broadband Search concluded that the average social media user spends over 2 hours on social media daily. Although 2 hours may seem like a significant amount of time to some, Broadband Search did not factor in the amount of time that users spend thinking and stressing over their appearance on these platforms. How many likes does my post have? I wonder how many people commented on my latest post. Am I posting too much? Too little? Did so-and-so see my story? I wonder what so-and-so posted today. Do I need to change up my aesthetic? How much time do we spend spewing up fictional scenarios in our minds, causing our mental health to spiral, creating addictions, and belittling self-esteem?
In the dinosaur ages of the internet, every parent would warn their kids, “Do not spend too much time on that thing, it’s going to rot your brain!” I am positive that in the age of Lunchables, and Nintendogs these parents did not imagine that their children would be living in a digital world full of Facetune, and Facebook conspiracies.
In some ways, the internet can be an excellent source of inspiration, and help us connect with our friends and family who may be far away. We cater our feeds to our liking, following people who align with our interests and ideas and leave the rest behind. As much as we filter our feeds, however, we are often left feeling a sense of anxiousness when we leave our phone, and it lingers as we go about our day. It is no secret that social media has caused a majority of teens to feel more depressed, but we continue to go on these apps, multiple times throughout the day. Is this the tell-all sign of addiction? We know the downsides and the side-effects, but so many of us feel naked without our phones. So what on Earth do we do?
What is it about social media that makes us feel so badly about ourselves? Designed as a place to connect with others, how did these apps become a place for self-loathing and comparison? CNBC reported that 80% of girls say they compare the way they look to others on social media, and 25% say they don’t think they look good without photo editing. Most of us are familiar with the app Facetune, and yet despite knowing that the app is being used by many, we continue to compare our natural selves to those that are filtered and edited to perfection, thinking that we aren’t good enough.
The quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” may be tired, but it sure as hell is true. There was an episode of Twilight Zone, that my father often retells as it represents the perfect metaphor for this scenario. In the episode, a woman is getting a post-accident operation and is being assisted by a group of doctors to help fix her face. At the end of the operation, you hear the doctors say, “Oh my God, she’s hideous!” and then the camera shows the woman’s face, a stereotypical Hollywood movie star, and the doctors had faces contorted and perturbed as if they were aliens. The ideas of beauty promoted on Instagram are just the ideas that have been filtered to us throughout time. Trends are constantly changing and evolving, and so are the ideas of beauty. Fortunately, having a good heart and personality is not a trend. Unfortunately, however, having a good heart and personality does not always translate into recognition on social media.
Why are we so concerned with comparison? Does our human nature force us to compete with everyone else so we can feel like a winner? What is there to win in this game? The answer: approval and validation. Everyone smiles and feels a sense of gratitude when they receive a compliment. It feels great to have people shower you with admiration, but what happens when we get addicted to this feeling? We immediately think that if we are not being told we are great, then we must be terrible. It is hard for us to consider the many other factors that go behind whether or not people decide to like or comment on a post. We cannot see the people behind the usernames, so we cannot know the full story. You may even have friends on social media that you have never met in real life. How do we know if it was a bad day? Maybe they are also feeling bad about themselves, and do not feel like validating you because they are struggling to find validation within themselves. The cycle runs deeper than we think, and the illusion of social media is merely that, an illusion.
When I am writing this, I am also writing as a reminder for myself. The next time you find yourself spiraling on social media, just remember that it is an app, it is all code, simply condensed business analysis exposing the worst aspects of human behavior in a package of curated material. Next time you feel as though your filtered feeds are starting to feel a little more polluted, try and filter in the people that make you feel good about yourself in real life. I know I need to.