Less “Heart Eyes,” More Clarity

Although I’m sure I’ve touched on this topic previously, I feel like it’s still important to bring up, especially when it comes what feelings come from it, it being good ol’ social media.

Now I’m studying a field that is obviously very heavily involved in social media. It’s just another aspect of my more professional life to keep up on a LinkedIn page, a Twitter, heck, even this blog. Since these are things that can stick around for the long haul, social media is truly a double-edged sword on how you want to use it.

And with that double edge is one that is not so fun and can even lead to worse moods. I often try to use social media as a means for me to take a mental break and stay updated on others’ lives. I enjoy creating and sharing content. I enjoy feeling so in-tune with the world and current events.

And whatever response that might come from what I create and post can have a huge effect on me. As someone who is constantly delved into my emotions and takes great pride in the effort I put toward everything I do, my sensitivity doesn’t take a break online most of the time, at least when it directly involves people I know. I like promote for others to just live your life without feeling the need to appease to others’ approval. Most of the time I follow that.

But when I am certain platforms, I strive for validation. Receiving likes and comments is almost a high. It feels like a sense of accomplishment to know I am posting ideas that others like and notice. I feel a false sense of connection, an affirmation I am still a valued member of society. When I’ve struggled so much with my self-esteem, I hate feeling like I still have this outlet where I really crave that outside approval, but I cannot deny it.

Last week in particular, I saw my friend post a really heartfelt post for NEDA Awareness Week, a fantastic feat on its own, and I made sure to comment on that. And yet when I saw that post was getting much more attention than my own post was, I immediately slipped into a terrible mood. Just simple, nonexistent measures of validation I created in my mind somehow rationalized that people don’t care about me and maybe I’m not worth remembering. Even in situations where I don’t necessarily know the person, I feel jealous at times seeing people even younger than me with an unbelievable numbers of followers or traffic, as if having those virtual milestones would prove that my life is full and great.

What a dramatic conclusions to jump to! I see a lot of similarities of this, ironically, to my own tendencies toward OCD and anorexia. It’s just another numbers game. While the game doesn’t consume an overwhelming space in my mind, it’s a subtle indicator for me to abide by. The content I post becomes less out of my own desire to share what I care about and more of what I think others want to see of me.

And you don’t have to suffer from mental illness to still experience this phenomenon. Social media is an extension of our self-image, and when we really want to be thoughtful with how we want the world to perceive us, it’s just a constant opportunity to try and impress others and often one-up them. I really see it at times as a dirty competition for some people. Even if it’s not something you’re consciously concerned about, you’ll still inevitably see the numbers attached to whatever you’re seeing.

It’s addicting. Maybe if other users couldn’t see the number of likes or favorites somebody receives, that would make a difference, but who knows? When you study media, it’s almost as if you have no choice but to read and analyze the numbers you and others obtain. For a lot of people, that’s their job. And for others, they’re staring at their phone waiting for a notification to pop up. And when it doesn’t, there’s a feeling like you’re missing out on something.

Again, for the most part, social media is really fun to me, and the pros outweigh the cons. I do see value, however, in taking a break from certain platforms for a few weeks just to see how it goes. I know I’m in a majority who relies on a scrolling feed for a go-to in boring or awkward situations. It’s practically instinct these days. If I’m standing in a hallway waiting for an earlier class to end, chances are everybody is on their phones. I almost cannot remember anymore what it was like without those darned glowing screens.

This is a challenge for myself and whoever cares to join me. Appropriately, it’s the season of Lent, and while I’ve never been someone in the tradition of giving things up during this time, this year might be an exception. I’d like to see what it’s like without at least 2 social media apps. Honestly, I rotate through several on a daily basis, but even cutting down that number could make a difference. I’ll see what happens. Perhaps I will cut down more, maybe not. I probably cannot do much long-term cleansing just because I’ve had several instances where social media accounts are academic requirements (the joy of media & journalism). But for now, I’ll try it out. Of course I’ll still be typing away on here. The main difference will be for myself and my overall phone usage. I will report back at the end of this month or even Lent if I make it that long to fill you in.

If you’re not interested in joining me, at least remember to be mindful about your scrolling and posting. Social media can either involve mindlessly wasting time or overly conscious attention to the analytics. We need to find a healthy balance and act intentionally for our own approval, not a virtual thumbs-up.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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