Social Media and The Death of Individuality


Why It May Be Time to Detox

Social Media is not reality.

Actually, let me rephrase, for the people who are about to stop reading: Social media is only a snapshot of reality. Oftentimes, when people advise against social media, they use hyperbolic language and do not root their arguments in truth. I too am an avid social media user. I hate talking on the phone. It makes me anxious, I get stressed, and the only thing I can think about is all the things that I should be doing instead of being preoccupied with my phone. Because of this, I love social media. Instead of having to call each and every friend and family member to catch up, I get to make a 5 second post and BOOM! All my favorite people just received an update at the same time, effectively reducing my phone usage tremendously.

The problem with social media arises when it becomes more than what it was meant to be. Unless you are being paid to post on social media, what other people think of your posts is none of your business. The purpose of social media is to connect with others. That’s it. You, as an individual, are responsible for filtering who you connect with. As adults, we already know the physical dangers of social media; we are constantly bombarded with valid warnings about getting scammed or trafficked. Rarely do we ever hear warnings about the effects of social media on our mental health that have the same validity. If you would like to learn why I, avid Instagram enthusiast, take frequent social media breaks, then keep reading.

Key Points:

The rapid rise of social media has altered our perceptions of reality.

These altered perceptions are a major contributor to a rising cultural emphasis on conformity.

Self-control, empathy, and critical thinking are key to a positive social media experience.

Many people function in a dissociated state when they encounter chronic stress. Just moving by, trying to make it from one day to the next. Have you ever noticed that the only people who really ever seem to stop and think all the time seem to have a childlike or vulnerable persona? It’s why people tend not to respect psychologists and psychiatrists as much as they would any other doctor. It’s because people don’t respect the power of thought. Your thoughts drive you and can literally impair your functioning if they become unhealthy. But, because most people either avoid or ignore their thoughts, they don’t learn how to maintain healthy thoughts. I asked several of my friends how they experienced their mind, and was shocked to hear that they mostly experienced them as a narration, with little questioning or evaluation. Of course, I am a younger person, and I know that thought processes mature with age. But thought watching is exhausting, and isn’t always necessary, especially if you cultivate a healthy environment for your mental health.

Herein lies the problem.

In psychology, we always hear that the brain cannot tell the difference between sight and experience, but what does that really mean? Even though you consciously know what you see on social media isn’t true, your subconscious brain cannot distinguish the difference between reality and fiction. That’s where your prefrontal cortex (aka your thought regulator) comes in. However, if you are driving, working, studying or engaging your prefrontal cortex in any other way, you put a lot of stress on your brain and it has to choose what is more important. For instance, if you use your phone while you’re in the driver’s seat your brain’s primary focus in that moment is to avoid a crash. If you see a tweet saying that 100,000 isn’t a large amount of money anymore, your brain doesn’t have enough energy to let you think about it, because it’s too busy trying to get you home safe.

I think that this is a pretty fair trade off. After all, I would rather feel broke than get in a car accident. The real problem comes when you start to see the same things over and over again without ever stopping to analyze. That’s why marginalized groups advocate for representation; what you see sticks around. If you only ever hear millionaires congratulated on their successes, you will start to believe that money is the key to success rather than understanding money is a mere byproduct. Similarly, if you only see skinny people post pictures in the gym, you may start to believe that plus-sized people are bigger because they don’t work out.

If any part of this is resonating, fear not! You are not alone. That’s just the way our brains work; the brain will always try its best to protect you, and our society glorifies the survival of the fittest. Culturally, we have been taught to value conformity in the United States due to a mass conceptual misinterpretation of unity. We are constantly bombarded with messaging that says you have to agree to be accepted. Well I challenge that. We are all different, and that’s what makes humanity beautiful. I do not believe that humans are inherently flawed; I think that everyone has choices and those choices can make or break your life experience. For reference, I vehemently disagree with the overturning of Roe v. Wade; however, I would not encourage someone presently in a state with an abortion ban to do the procedure themselves. I do not have to agree with a law to abide by it; that is what political activism is for. I, like everyone else, understand that my actions have consequences.

Just because someone has a difference in opinion, doesn’t mean they cannot coexist with you.

Trying to police the thoughts of other people is pointless; their behavior is all that should matter to you. Stop overemphasizing the role people’s opinions have on their actions. Conformity is ‘in’ now. You’ve likely noticed that when someone on social media has a difference in opinion, commenters rush to attack. What starts out as “I disagree” can quickly escalate to “Kill Yourself” on social media, because people feel more free to let their intrusive thoughts win without any regard for others. We consciously know social media isn’t real, so we give ourselves permission to do or say things on there that we likely never would in real life. However, to the user on the receiving end, the constant barrage of negative messaging may be too much to handle, especially if they have been too preoccupied with life’s real stressors to engage their critical thinking on social media. And thus, cyberbullying was born.

So, what are today’s takeaways ?

Social Media is not inherently bad; a loaded gun cannot wreak havoc without an irresponsible user.

You don’t necessarily have to regulate yourself to a set number of minutes per day; some people make their living from social media or use it to connect and learn. That’s completely valid!

My golden rule is, “No control, No Scroll!” meaning that if I cannot invest enough time to process the information I receive as I receive it, I do not have time to be on social media. If you learn to practice moderation, self-control, and critical thinking, social media can be a beautiful thing.

You owe it to yourself to be the best you that you can be, both on and offline.

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