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Social media is like a car wreck on the freeway. You're going about your way on the freeway, trying to reach your destination, when you see the accident on the side of the road. The best thing to do is keep your eyes on the car in front of you and continue going forward, but a part of you can’t help but watch. The people around you have also started staring and pretty soon you are all moving much too slow and traffic is building. Social media has the power to suck you into that same level of distraction, except with social media, there is constantly something new happening on the side of the road. As much as I find scrolling through Instagram to be consuming, distracting, and truly anxiety provoking, I can’t help but slow down and watch with the rest of the world.
For me, my biggest social media kryptonite is Twitter. As opposed to staring down a rabbit hole of photos, I find myself trapped in a never-ending sea of news and humor. What celebrity just ruined their career for the next month with an unbelievably ignorant statement? What believably unbelievable tweet from Donald Trump made his PR manager cry? Admittedly, I probably spend at least a few hours of my week trying to cram my brain with the latest news and bouts of fruitless information. The addiction has only increased since the onset of COVID-19.
There are individuals who could likely write a twelve-page, single spaced paper on how social media is a benefit to society and utilizing it for hours on end allowed them to stay in contact with their friends and family during the quarantine. Honestly, I am not one of those people. I could say that I only check Instagram to check in on my friends or scrolled through Twitter just to stay up to date on the case statistics, but that would be fictitious. Yes, I did direct message my friends and used Twitter as a news outlet, although that is only part of it. If I only cared about contacting my friends, I could text or call them. If I just needed to check the news, I could turn on the scarcely used black box in the living room with a click of a button. The truth is, I spent time using social media as a means of escaping. I scrolled aimlessly through travel pages on Instagram, wishing I was somewhere else. I read through pretentious comments on political twitter to fuel the anger once filled by in-person conversation. I laughed at memes and mindless videos to avoid being left alone with my thoughts. To generalize, Baby boomers and Generation X would call my use of social media a massive waste of time. Millennials and Generation Z would criticize me for underselling the importance of social media. I would say that it is neither a waste of time nor important.
Using social media throughout the pandemic did not always stimulate me intellectually or make me feel connected to the outside world. It did, however, make me laugh. It made me smile. It made me cry. It made me think. These are emotions and reactions that we seek out and covet in our day to day lives, so why should it matter if I experienced this via my phone? While I would advocate against constantly having your head buried in the contents of your phone, I also no longer find myself feeling guilty for receiving enjoyment from two brightly colored squares. The key to falling between the true extremes of hatred and idolization is limitation. Pulling your eyes completely off the road to watch the wreck can keep you from reaching your destination and it can become a danger to yourself and those around you. Failing to acknowledge that there is even a wreck at all is a form of ignorance and self-importance. Let yourself take a peek—just be careful to never let it consume you.
Ella Schoneman, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: "How has your use of social media changed from the Covid lockdown to our return to in-person classes?" The class covers copyright and social media. Ella is a Public Relations major.
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