As millennials go, my exposure to social media has been pretty minimal.
For instance, while many of my peers ventured there earlier, I wasn’t on Facebook until I was a freshman in high school. Since then, I’ve dabbled with a few other applications, including Twitter and Snapchat, but it wasn’t until this year — when I was required to do so as part of my participation in a school-related event — that I finally joined Instagram.
Since I joined the social media party, the most important discovery that I’ve made is that the things you see on these apps should never be taken at face value. Nothing on Instagram, Facebook or any other social media site is ever truly candid. In fact, almost everything is the result of meticulous planning.
Once I realized that not everyone around me was always having the most amazing experiences every moment of every day — as suggested by their social media posts — being on social media became a lot less stressful.
There’s no doubt about it: Social media has changed the way we think, for better or worse. One of the most prominent ways that social media affects a user can be seen in the state of social anxiety that has become known as Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO. This occurs when one feels that friends are doing something “better” or “more fun” than they are, and can often be triggered by social media posts.
This anxiety is not restricted to just a fear of being left out of activities, but also a fear that whatever activity you’re participating in isn’t as fun as what your friends are doing. According to a recent study conducted by Eventbrite, 69 percent of millennials experience FOMO.
This social anxiety can lead to very real, serious consequences, including clinical depression, if left unchecked. But it’s all too easy to succumb to when social media only presents us with the most amazing aspects of people’s lives. Nobody posts about the boring moments. All we see are the good times.
When I first created my Instagram profile for the school project, I figured it would be deleted from my phone before the end of the week. However, as I saw more and more friends liking my posts, I too was drawn in. Soon I found myself right smack in the middle of the endless cycle of anxiety over being left out.
That’s because I found that social media, and Instagram in particular, is also the epitome of instant gratification. Seeing those “likes” appear on my posts made me feel good. Seeing that friends were doing interesting things without me … not so much. Something about my thought process changed after joining Instagram: I began to take more photos — or, more accurately, I began to seek out photo opportunities. I’d ask whoever was with me to take pictures of me so I could then put them on my Instagram account.
I would obsessively refresh my app after posting until I saw that someone liked my photo, and then I would refresh it again to see if the numbers went up. The “likes” validated me. They made what I was doing seem worthwhile.
Having spent the past week on a road trip with my family, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to plug my Instagram profile with photos depicting the “great time” I’ve been having. I found myself trying to stage the perfect photo at every stop, and eventually I realized that I had spent so much time trying to create the perfect photo op that I wasn’t even paying attention to the vacation itself.
This cycle of attempts to convince everyone and myself that I was having fun led me to realize that hardly any of the seemingly perfect Instagram photos I see daily are actually representations of the perfect experience, whatever that might be, and that so many are carefully crafted rather than snapshots of a real moment in people’s lives.
The amount of effort I put into creating an interesting persona is something mirrored in most social media accounts. Nobody is actually having fun 100 percent of the time — who in history has ever had that? And why now more often than before we all had smartphones?
So that’s the takeway, kids: If you aren’t having as great a time, or maybe even a “better” time, than the people you see on social media, it’s no reason to stress.
Having realized this, I am determined not to let any social media-induced anxiety prevent me from enjoying what I’m doing right now. I’m just going to appreciate, and enjoy. the rest of my summer vacation.
Charlie Dodge is the incoming editor-in-chief of The Rampage, the student newspaper of Temple City High School.