A Shift in Perception from Social Media

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A Shift in Perception from Social Media

Dec 03, 2021

I find it challenging to identify whether social media has an entirely negative or positive effect on my life. I do not think its impact can fall neatly along that binary, but I do find myself often fixating on the particularly negative sides of social media in my life. While I do think that social media has allowed for many positive experiences and opportunities, I cannot help but feel as though the negative effects outweigh the benefits.

The negative impact of social media that I feel most often explicitly impacts my life is the amount of time I spend online. The compulsion to check social media hinders me from completing my homework, studying for extended periods of time, and even just sitting outside in peace. There are psychological explanations for this compulsion to constantly check in with apps to be constantly in the loop, but I am often shocked at how much of a grip this compulsion has on me. Even while writing this essay, I have the urge to step away from my laptop and check the apps on my phone to make sure I am always updated on messages and posts. When I am out with friends at dinner or catching up between classes, there is always a period spent in silence as we collectively check our phones. Even throughout the conversation, our eyes drift towards our screens to ensure we are not missing anything online. This negative effect feels especially saddening and dismal, considering how much of the time spent on social media I could dedicate towards activities and hobbies that enrich my life. I love reading and going outside and could find a dozen more hobbies that bring me joy, but I seem to actively choose scrolling online instead of pursuing these activities.

Another significant effect that social media has had on my life is my shift in perception of self. Particularly on social media, the standards and expectations for a successful or appealing page is constantly shifting, it is nearly impossible to keep up. Now, one could ask why I would even bother to keep up with these moving goalposts, but that is a problem unto itself. But the negative effect is seen in this blurred line between my presence or persona online and my actual identity outside of the internet. This is exacerbated by the fact that for many of my peers at Pepperdine, their first impression or interaction with me was via the internet, after a year off-campus. When it came time to meet many of these people in-person, my entire perception of them was shaped by what content they had posted online. Is it funny? Is it serious, educational content? Is it heavily filtered or intentionally posing as natural and effortless? These same questions, I know, are asked about me when I meet someone for the first time. Can someone know me at all without my online presence? What about my social media persona is misleading, or maybe entirely false? What does it say about me that I chose to highlight certain aspects of my life online and entirely neglect other aspects of who I am? This self-awareness can be exhausting, constantly wondering how the cultivation of my online persona will play out in the real world. When I consider it, I think this effect is the most pervasive, the most psychologically detrimental.

By extension, a negative impact of my time on social media has been the constant marketing promoted online. In my experience, the prevalence of social media as a tool to promote consumption has increased exponentially since the onset of the pandemic. Where in-person social interactions stopped, our desire to indicate wealth, status, popularity skyrocketed by declaring these values through consumption. My social media is constantly filled with advertisements, specifically targeted towards my interests. Even the famous people I follow have grown their platforms by becoming spokespeople for brands, marketing a certain lifestyle, attainable only by purchasing a series of products. It is not always the outright, explicit advertisements that plague my time online. The use of social media as a marketing tool is sneakier than that, using young, popular influencers as idols for what the “good” life is. It consists of the right restaurants and bars, the right shoes paired with just the right jacket, the right phone case, and just the right breakfast using a brand new appliance. I use the term “right” loosely, but it indicates the marketing of a lifestyle, specifically for young women, one in which things are as they should be, no one is tired or stressed, outfits are always new and perfectly matching, and food looks so aesthetically pleasing you don’t want to eat it. This “good” life is not attainable without certain items, one that are strategically placed in social media posts, aiming to show that happiness, success, and joy will come only as long as you consume more and more unnecessary things.

Ultimately, I believe that social media has made me more self-critical, more painfully self-aware, and more out of touch with what I want for myself, separate from marketing schemes and propaganda. While I can acknowledge that social media has opened me up to creative outlets and meaningful genuine relationships, I cannot place these positives as superior to the array of negatives.

Lauren Chivers, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: "Does social media have a positive, negative or neutral effect on your life? Explain." The class covers copyright and social media. Lauren is a Philosophy/Sustainability major.

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