Like most millennials, I grew up in a time when the pace of technological change was unprecedented. In my lifetime, my recreational technology evolved from the Game Boy Color and Tamagotchi to the iPhone and Bluetooth capability in speakers the size of my palm.
Our millennial generation, on the whole, is more likely to use and spend time on social media and other online forums that constantly inform us of what everyone else is doing and reinforce societal norms about ideal physical appearances and what social lives should look like than any other generation so far.
When we peruse social media sites, for example, we see hundreds of photos of hundreds of acquaintances living life as if it were a music video or making huge leaps in their careers as they land the jobs or internships of their — and often our — dreams.
Spending too much time examining others’ profiles can lead to feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. Social media, magazines and other news publications can feel like a deluge of dissatisfaction as we — consciously or not — compare ourselves to our peers or even to celebrities in the public eye. Throw in the fact that these impressive photos and status updates are scattered among noxious political diatribes and articles that inform us of “Eight Ways to a Flat Tummy by Summer!” or “What’s Killing Your Relationship!” and social media often makes us feel like we’re living our lives wrong, somehow.
As millennials, we have a tendency to use our personal social media pages to further our image or — dare I say — our brand. This means that we only post photos where we appear to an aesthetic advantage or where we appear at our smartest, most fun-loving or social. My Facebook newsfeed, for instance, consists of specially chosen photos to reflect friends’ best physical features or show the subject participating in a well-choreographed depiction of fun or achievement.
And, to be honest, this isn’t a problem. It goes against our natures to post pictures where we don’t like how we are portrayed — physically or otherwise. I have no desire to post pictures at unflattering angles, where my eyes are closed, where I appear shiny or any with any other such physical flaw.
The problem, I think, is how we interpret what is portrayed on social media. What we as millennials need to grasp is how to be smart media consumers. When we read books, news and editorials, when we hear speeches from political pundits, when we listen to music or view art, we consider the source the media came from. Is this foreign article about the role of government in healthcare from an exceptionally left- or right-wing publication? Maybe I’ll take it with a grain of salt. Is this nutrition study from a trusted journal, or a poll of celebrity trainers in a fashion magazine? We adjust our perceptions and acceptance of these articles accordingly, but when it comes to social media, I notice that our analytical faculties are essentially tossed out the window.
When I see all the jealousy-inducing activities other people are participating in — laughing with a huge group of friends, the ever-elusive group-jump photo, glamor shots or pictures from prestigious internships — I have a tendency to wonder what I’m doing wrong to have such a boring social media presence. Where are all my cool photos with hundreds of “likes?” Where’s my prestigious internship?
Then, I stop, take a beat and think. I consider the source. I know I’m unlikely to post a photo I know is unflattering, and I know that I like to post photos where I’m having fun or experiencing something outside the norm of my routine. I am not going to document a night where I stayed in and consumed a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, a bad hair day or a time I didn’t get accepted to something, so why would I expect anything else from anyone else?
It’s not wrong that our social media pages are so carefully curated; in an age where the anonymity of the Internet gives critics a forum to comment without care for emotions, where future employers have access to our profiles and where a growing portion of sociability takes place online, caution can never be a bad thing. Still, there’s a misconception that everything that social media shows us is real and accurate; it’s not.
We need to be smart consumers, the way we seem to be with every media other than social media, and take every post for what it is: a snapshot of someone’s life or personality, and by no means representative of his life as a whole. Social media seems to give the impression that some of our acquaintances or friends are inherently more beautiful or fun than others, or than we ourselves are, and that’s just not the truth. We need to approach social media profiles with the same healthy dose of skepticism that we do everything else, and it’s possible that we’ll feel much happier. I know I will.
Charlotte Glasser is a rising junior in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. An Apple a Day appears every other Wednesday at thehoya.com.
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