There has been a lot of talk over the years about social media. Is it good? Is it bad? Are we all addicted to life online? Is social media making us all unhappy with ourselves and our lives? So, I wanted to take some time to share my thoughts, feelings, and experiences on social media. I’ve also been getting a lot of questions about why I would start a blog and share my life more publicly on the internet, and I will talk about that too!
In case it wasn’t already obvious, I’m a millennial. So, while I do remember a time without the internet, I did a lot of my growing up, particularly my teens, on the internet. And social media really took off in my lifetime.
I got my first social media account, Facebook, when I was about 14 years old. It was what everyone was doing after MySpace, which I never had as I was too young. All or most of my friends had Facebook and it was definitely a big part of socializing for me.
I look back every so often at all of my cringey posts as a young teen, which mostly consisted of ridiculous status updates, and dramatic emo song lyrics. I have a lot of memories on the platform. But how did it effect my development?
I think broadly speaking, social media has had both positive and negative influences on my development. I would say overall that it leans positive, with some clear negative impacts. Like most things, it wasn’t only good or bad for me.
Some of the positives included sharing memories, connecting with friends, staying in touch with more family and friends that lived far away. This has definitely continued as I have gotten older. Also, having a space where I felt like I could express myself and experiment with my identity to better figure out who I was. It was a great place to socialize and chat with my friends. I also got to find support groups for teen mental health, positive body image and self-esteem that helped me a ton in high school. I could talk to people all over the world who were experiencing what I was experiencing.
For the negatives, there are definitely a few. Cyberbullying is no joke. It’s really hard when your bullies can harass you even when you are in the comfort of your own home. They also have a whole new avenue of attack, posting pictures that are embarrassing, or leaving nasty comments on your posts. And, as a general rule, people are much braver online than they would be in person.
There is also a competitive atmosphere on social media, between relationship status updates, filtered and edited photos, numbers of likes or follows, there are whole new measures to compare yourself to. And all of these no doubt had there impact on me. It was not always good to be able to compare myself to others all the time. I was cyber bullied and also felt a lot of pressure to post often, get a lot of likes from people I knew, and post attractive photos that others would like. I worried about how I was perceived a lot.
At the same time, I think no matter what as a teenager I would have worried about what others thought of me, it’s kind of a big part of being a teenager. And, I would have been obsessed with comparing myself with others, just my source might have looked different say movies, or magazines. At least in my case the people I was comparing myself to were my age for the most part.
I think the most positive influence social media offered me as a young person, and I believe this is still true, is the opportunity to learn about the world more broadly than I could offline, being exposed to so many different ideas, people, and cultures; it also gave me the opportunity to network and join groups of other supportive people.
Now being older, I can really see both the benefits and drawbacks of being active on social media and how it affects me. I have worked through most of my worries about how I am perceived by others online, and I think that mostly came with knowing who I really am and getting steadily more confident in myself.
I think where most of the problems come in are really how social media is governed and utilized by money-hungry mega-companies, not the concept of social media itself. How the platforms are allowed to manipulate what you see, tailor advertisements, track your location, store, sell, and distribute your personal information, spread fake news, incentivize clickbait content etc. I think if these platforms were regulated to be more ethical, we would see a lot of the problems associated with social media go away. But until there are more regulations the best thing we can do is be aware of these less-than-nice aspects of social media and guard ourselves as best we can from them.
The other part of the problem comes with how you use social media. Why you’re on it, who you follow, what you are looking for, what you are looking at, all affects what you get out of it and how it impacts you. If you are looking to promote your small business, social media can have a hugely positive influence on your life. However, if you are using it to increase your popularity, it’s probably going to be less healthy for you. How it affects you has a lot to do with how you interact with it and think about it.
After the years I spent growing up on social media, I have learned a lot through trial and error. But, to save you that journey, here are my best practices:
Set firm boundaries: This includes time spent on social media, which platforms you engage with, and who you follow. If you are worried it’s taking over your life or you’re becoming addicted, set-aside designated social media free time in your day. If the people you are following are making you feel bad about yourself, unfollow them. If you don’t like the platform, leave it and find another. Boundaries are healthy and important to help you get more positives and avoid the negatives. (For example, I don’t like Twitter so, I don’t use it!)
Think about what you want out of it: Are you there to make connections, sell a product, learn about the world, pursue a hobby, or flex your creative side? These are important questions to consider. Establishing what you want out of it not only focuses your time and who you might follow on social media, but might also help you to choose platforms that you are more interested in and get more out of. What you want might not be the same as other people and that’s okay, there is room for all kinds in the infinite space that is the internet and social media. Asking this question might also help you figure out if you are trying to fill gaps in your life with social media that are best filled in other ways (self worth, popularity, self image, achievement etc.).
Understand how the platform works: You don’t need to know everything about the internet or HTML coding, that’s not what I’m getting at. But, to get the most out of social media, and also to avoid some of the possible negatives, it is important to understand how the platform works. What drives the platform, who uses it, who created it and why, and how the different features work. Like I said, you don’t need to be an expert but this information will help you navigate it well and use it to your benefit.
Be conscientious of your actions on social media: These are public platforms and spaces so think about what you are posting, commenting, or sharing before you do it. An easy trick it so think about if you might regret it looking back in a few years, or how you might feel if someone you worked with, or others you care about read it.
Social media, like anything else in life, isn’t perfect. And again like most things, it is made up of the people who participate in it and create it. What you get out of it has a lot to do with how you engage with it. This can certainly be a difficult thing for a young person to figure out, but hey, isn’t that true of most things in life?
I think it’s easy for us to just cast the blame for a lot of problems on “social media” when really it is people who are to blame, not the tool.
I choose to share my life publicly on social media because I love connecting with others. Others who may be going through the same things I am, or those who want to learn what it’s like to be me. I also get to learn from millions around the world, see far away places, or discover new places just around the corner. I get to have a space to create and to share and showcase those creations to the world. I can keep in touch with distant relatives, friends, acquaintances that I never could have kept up with. Heck, I can even earn money to support my family if I want to.
I love being on social media, and I don’t see that changing for me anytime soon. And while it had its unique set of challenges, growing up online wasn’t the worst thing either. Personally, I don’t regret it.
What have been your experiences of social media? Leave a comment with your thoughts.