My love-hate relationship with social media

The pros and cons of our generation’s reliance on social media

Clanny is both grateful for and spiteful of social media.

I clutch it in my hand, pat my pocket every so often, and scroll aimlessly when I hold it, just to know it's there. My phone is my lifeline; it connects me to the rest of the world, and without it, I would be lost.

This could easily be taken and interpreted in the most cynical way possible: that “kids these days” have no direction or purpose, staring blankly into their phones for hours.

As a self-admitted Luddite, I sometimes feel that way—technology is evil, social media is leading to social decay, and we have no attention spans anymore.

Then my friend sends me a funny meme, and I forget what I was mad about. 

I come from an interesting generation who, like millennials, remembers a pre-social media time, but still spent most of their childhood immersed in it. I grew up not just in the social media age, but with it.

I remember a time before social media. I remember when Snapchat was the newest, hottest thing. I remember when making “stories” and sending “streaks” seemed bizarre.

I remember asking, what’s the point of recording such short videos? Who would even watch that? Now, less than a decade later, every social media site has some sort of story or short video feature.

TikTok is fairly new, but I watched how it came to be. I was active on the site during the rise and fall of Vine; I watched burn and TikTok rise from the ashes. I look at all of it with the knowledge that less than a decade ago, Facebook was the must-have app.

Social media’s quick and expansive growth is perplexing, and the more I think about it, the more I’m struck with the reality of time. It feels so slow but moves so fast.

I’ve switched schools three times, and with each move, there seemed to be a new app, a juggernaut to end all juggernauts only to be bulldozed by the next thing.

It makes me think about the past, and my childhood. About how in the pre-social media age, social changes like style and culture would happen over years, but for us, we’re accustomed to fads growing and falling apart before they’ve reached their peak.

Beyond being baffled by the rise and fall of social apps, I do have complicated—often leaning towards more cynical—feelings about social media.

I was never tech savvy nor popular. As someone who grew up lonely, people using social media to flaunt their achievements just made me feel more alienated from my peers.

On the one hand, I’m nostalgic for a time when going on my phone didn’t fill me with dread. Instagram’s curated perfection and manufactured joy has always been a source of insecurity for me.

No matter how logically I try to process my feed, it still feels bad to watch old friends travel the world while I’m bogged down by essays. On the other hand, without Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, I wouldn’t be able to talk to some of my oldest and closest friends.

With growing up comes growing apart, and in the case of a lot of my friends, it meant moving far apart. We could live in different time zones, barely having time to talk to each other, yet I could go to my friend's Instagram story, see her talk about her day, and still know how she’s doing.

Social media—for me at least—has given me an essential and affordable way to keep in contact with the people closest to me. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Along with my bafflement of and fondness for social media, I recognize its immense flaws.

Often, I just don’t like social media. To me, it looks like a den of snakes, rather than a warm inviting pool—I don’t want to risk dipping my toe in and getting bitten.

Internet discourse is painful to participate in and view, education comes hand in hand with misinformation, hate speech and harassment is on the rise, and our privacy is constantly under threat. Is that social media’s fault, entirely? I would argue no.

Our privacy issues stem from corporate greed, not the genuine human desire for connection and impulse to share that fuels social media. Bullying, harassment, and discrimination have always been there—they’re the results of the normalization of bigotry and general disregard for other people. Social media just makes them more visible.

I don’t hate Instagram when you strip it down to its bare-bones coding. I hate the culture that makes it harmful, and the greed that makes it unsafe.

Social media is nuanced. Like any type of technological advancement, it has its uses and its pitfalls. Its flaws are reflections of the flaws in our society, and in our human nature. Negative discourse on social media reflects problems in the real world—they’re just perpetuated online.

I will always be social media’s first and biggest critic, but I won’t act like it’s inherently malicious. The malice is within our society.

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