If you didn't put it on Instagram, did it even happen?

I used to be strict about screen time. This was strictly self-imposed. My parents let me use whatever devices whenever I wanted growing up. There were no rules like no phone in your room or no Wi-Fi after 11pm. Perhaps because of this, I developed some pretty dependent habits surrounding social media. I curbed this throughout 2019 and 2020 and the positive impact it had on my life and my overall productiveness was pretty astounding. Social media is ingrained within the everyday life of our current generation. Without social media, I wouldn’t know how to go about contacting a lot of people in my life. Sometimes I wonder if I’d view myself differently if social media didn’t exist. Or if I’d have a different relationship with social media if there had been strict rules surrounding it growing up. The way I use social media has changed significantly in the past few years. The most important thing I have learnt is that you need to recognise how social media is affecting how you view yourself. 

I remember when Instagram and Snapchat first became prevalent in my life. I think I was year 9, maybe 13-years-old. All of a sudden, everyone had iPhones and cell phones plans with data (I don’t think I understood what cellular data was at the time) and no one wanted to speak to each other at lunch time. I got my first smartphone for my 14th birthday and thought it was the peak of my life. I could finally use the apps that all my friends were using. As soon as I set up an account, I started gaining a few followers. Only people I knew, but I soon realised that some other girls in my year group had a lot more followers than I had. Slowly I grew envious and began equating social media likes with actual self-worth. I never posted much myself because I didn’t like how I looked in photos but I longed to be one of those girls that had a constant feed of seemingly effortless posts. I thought that your life might just be a bit shinier, sparklier, and better if you were like that. I failed to recognise the negative effect social media was having on my self-worth. This continued for a number of years.

Social media feeds into our need to gain approval from those around us. We now equate the virtual likes and comments with the self we present to the world. Social media is omnipresent in our lives and can affect people negatively or positively. It had a negative effect on my early teenage years, but I think social media today is potentially a more pleasant landscape. Collectively, we are members of the first generation to grow up with social media. The effect it has on our lives is yet to be fully established, but it is undoubtedly large. Social media is pivotal to our lives today but understanding how it can affect our moods is important. The level of obsession can be reduced and the first step to changing this is to unfollow accounts that make you feel less than ideal. Narcissism may be exacerbated by social media but there’s no need to perpetuate it further. There is no doubt in my mind that social media can be utilised positively, but it’s up to each individual to customise their feed to align with their personal values. We can’t blame social media for the entirety of our own confidence issues — you have to have the courage to unfollow those with a negative influence on your life. 

My mindset has shifted and changed infinitely since social media first entered my life. I have harnessed social media to remain in contact with people important to me. That’s how I involve it in my life, and it’s important to ensure you find your own balance with social media also. We shouldn’t tear people down for using social media more or less than the norm. There is no clear-cut measure to what is “good” or “bad” in using social media. My main piece of advice is to try and change what you see on a day to day and see how it makes you feel. You might be surprised in the shift in your mindset. 

By Lily Mirfin