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Social media and I have always had a strange relationship. For someone who constantly talks about how damaging it can be on the psyche or how I would love to simply ditch every app and leave it all behind, the sheer amount of time I actually spend on it seems to be that of someone with a mild obsession. I admittedly spend a few hours per day neglecting real life and the beautiful world just to look at a distorted view of it through my screen. The world-wide incidence of COVID-19, however, changed my usage of social media more drastically than anything ever has.
My approximation for when I started to spend far too much of my time on social media would be when I got to college. Of course, it started out as following everyone that was going into my class, not wanting to be left in the dust during the rapid socialization that seems to be notorious for overwhelming every new freshman at Pepperdine. The next few years were spent crammed in a tiny Italian villa for one year and spending every second with my friends the next year. The older I got, the more I grew to be someone who needed constant entertainment and stimulation. I started craving this social interaction to such an extent where I turned from a person who once enjoyed exploring their own mind or imagination to someone who cannot be alone for a single second. In a normal four-year college experience, this developed hyper attachment to my friends or peers could probably continued unchecked. However, my college experience featured a global pandemic and complete isolation in order to protect my high-risk mother. I spent the totality of quarantine with my family and far away from all those whom I had become attached to the last few years.
At the beginning of this process, my social media use skyrocketed, validating my constant need for checking in on social circles and communicating with people when I no longer had the opportunity to do so face-to-face. It never seemed to be for my enjoyment but rather became an obligation that I couldn’t seem to free myself from. Yet, as many people grew more restless and frustrated in being alone during this time, I started to settle in. The more time I spent isolated, and therefore usually on my phone, my usage started to shift. I stopped scrolling through every post on instagram rather than wringing the app dry for any entertainment, socialization, or vicarious experiences. I instead started to engage with other online content that I was actually interested in. I created an art instagram and began to share my art with others, encouraging me with an experience that actually felt healthy or fun for once. I was beginning to use social media to investigate what I was actually passionate about, exploring all different kinds of artists that I’ve never even met and all of their art online. I witnessed new communities, new ideas, and a fresh wave of inspiration from connections all around the world. I discovered social media that was more specific to niche groups (Behance, for example) rather than simple platforms meant for my entire generation. The pressure of social media started to ease up for me as the hours I was still spending on it left me feeling free to be myself. I put my time into gathering information, watching videos, attending artist career Zoom sessions, gathering tips or inspiration from other artists, and developing my own style with a digital platform to express myself.
Since COVID-19 first altered my plans and my life, I have learned to love social media once again. This is not to say that I still do not get frustrated with how demanding it can be or even that I spend less time on it. If anything, I probably spend more time on social media now than I ever have. However, this extra time gave me the chance to look for social media’s redeeming qualities. Finding better uses for it helps me to appreciate the fact that social media can be an incredible thing that connects people and ideas all around the world rather than giving a constant assignment of crafting a personal brand amongst peers. So, despite my slightly appalled shock each week when I receive my screen report of the average number of hours I spend on my phone, at least I now feel that I am growing from the content I consume. I hope to continue this type of engagement where I receive far more energy from social media than I give to it.
Erica Lewis, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: How much time do you spend using social media? Has usage gone up or down since the onset of Covid-19? Why? The class covers copyright and social media. Erica is an Advertising and Art major.
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