Social media platforms bring about so many opportunities for enhanced global connection and access, and yet I often feel very passive on these platforms.
Passively consuming content can be great, especially considering the fast-paced nature of our society today. However, I feel the prolonged periods of time I spend passively scrolling negatively affects my ability to think clearly and more often than not habituates me to being on the receiving end of other people’s lives through their eyes and words, consequently inhibiting me from feeling the same need to create and produce work of my own (be it coherent thoughts, writing or art).
Personally, I love Instagram. I have a great appreciation for the visual medium as an amateur content creator myself, but I also love the options it provides for connection and engagement. I started off with Instagram on a private profile, full of photos from my daily life and occasionally featuring the books I was reading or the art I was making. However, at some point, because I was following so many people and brands that no longer stimulated me, it felt like I was inhabiting an identity that I out-grew or at least felt under-represented by. I wanted a platform that provided me with the space to unabashedly share my thoughts and questions, so I migrated to a public profile, didn’t follow any of the people I was studying with and just started posting.
The intention behind creating this new profile for me was to break down the pre-existing virtual space I had for myself with the hopes of only following pages that produced content that motivated me, rather than facilitated passive and often negative comparison standards. And it worked, for a while. I was more driven than I had been in a while to make art and write on my blog, but just like your room after a spring cleanup, my feed slowly started to accumulate trash that it could really do without. So it wasn’t exactly a fool-proof solution, but the process of purging (see: Descartes and his apples) allowed me to identify what type of content elicited what type of reaction from me. This critical awareness not only empowered me to claim control over the content I was consuming, but it enlightened me to aspects of my character that under-perform under the influence of certain digital (and social) pressures allowing for some concrete growth and introspection.
The other day, I was doing some manic research into the subject of reconciling the erotic and the domestic in modern-day romantic relationships or partnerships. I am personally very intrigued by this subject and have been working on multiple papers and projects for university that somehow connect back to this field. But due to my fervent research and recently overly saturated and often scattered mind, I felt like I had hit a wall with my circulating questions. I was grasping what the researchers and experts thought of this paradox, but I was more curious about what regular people like myself thought too. So, I hit up Instagram and asked (ever so not eloquently):
Do you think it’s possible to reconcile the paradox of the erotic and domestic in a relationship?
After pos(t)ing that question, I definitely felt this thrill of anticipation for what people had to say. I was so energized by the potential of human communication and what I could discover and/or learn from the real flesh and blood behind those little circular icons. This alone opened my eyes to the substantial distinction between the diluted excitement I feel towards passive digital interactions compared to the visceral exhilaration I feel in response to real people communicating their real thoughts and feelings to me.
Surprisingly, over the next hour or so, people were actually engaging!
It was tremendous how much people were willing to be part of something beyond themselves. Of course individual differences exist and some people just don’t particularly fancy engaging with things they know little about or are just not intrigued by.
A very good friend of mine from high school (whom I haven’t seen for the last 4 years as she lives in Canada) was one of the first to reply with her thoughts on open relationships and how they can aid in the fulfillment of multiple physical and emotional needs of individuals. In the light of another perspective, I was no longer tied to my circular thinking and I realized what we were discussing could also be applied to our relationship with most things, including our devices. We often do need to diversify in order to receive everything we need, hence why friendships are incredibly beneficial for personal development and putting your phone down and experiencing ‘real life’ can feel so therapeutic sometimes.
Often, people on TV who ‘know stuff’ lament over the disconnection we breed on social media due to the detached nature of the product and the way by which it is used (i.e. straining our necks, eyes glued to our screens). And that’s fair, I can write an anthology on the disconnection that arises out of our (dysfunctional) use of social media, and honestly any tool known to man-kind. However, it does not look like we’ll be getting off of social media anytime soon, and I personally don’t even want to. Therefore I am deeply driven to discover the myriad of ways through which I can generate some ‘real’ connection in the realm of the plugged.
I felt that, contrary to the phenomenon of cyber-bullying, the distance that social media brings can make it easier to have certain conversations with such a boundless virtual community. You don’t have to engage with people that are not conducive to you reaping the benefits of the discussion, nor do you have to look presentable to be taken seriously. You can just think and share (double-edged sword right there hm!)
Funny enough, it was quite relevant when Abigail pointed out the importance of knowing your own needs prior to expecting anybody to meet them. I used to be quite in-tune with my mind and body (as a byproduct of still being in school, exercising almost daily and consuming content that was not necessarily tied to social media’s normative trends). But over time, I found myself losing touch with my innermost desires and needs.
I speculate this was because as I was changing, the world around me was changing five times as fast (or at least it felt that way). I was in a constant game of keeping up and very rarely took the time I needed to update my software. Instead, I would scroll through artists’ pages and mourn my very-dead sense of curiosity, hoping their motivation would diffuse through the screen and into my body with every ❤️. It did not take me very long to realize that the screen was actually draining me of what I needed most, not because of the screen itself but because of the way I was refusing to put new strategies in place to acquire what I needed most.
After picking up yoga and reading more regularly again, I noticed a lot of my ‘glitches’ going away. I was thinking more clearly, being more productive and even when I scroll, it would not leave me with that profound sense of emptiness.
My Psychology teacher used to say, ‘the medium is the message’. This was a favorite quote of mine because it prompts questions such as what the implicit message may be, where it may lie and why it even came about. Being encouraged to question the distinction between the medium and the message in order to reconcile the two in a coherent impression of content allowed me to strategize more consciously when navigating these platforms.
I learn a lot from social media and the people it is composed of. I am challenged to think in different ways and explore new explanations that may be out of reach for my capacity, knowledge or experience. And this process can be very healthy for us, especially when we get into habitual (and often dysfunctional) cognitive and behavioral patterns. For example, a biomedical perspective to my question pushed me to explore the topic beyond the confines of the sociological, leading to a qualitatively richer learning experience that I might not have acquired on my own with my little humble and stuck brain!
This is partly why I feel like we can reclaim control of our time and well-being on the internet without needing to take any drastic measures. We are always susceptible to influences, especially ones designed to fly under our radar. But we have the power and autonomy to attempt to define our wants and needs and strategize ways of how to acquire them. We have the resources available to learn about almost everything from almost everyone almost anywhere. We may fall into group-think or the ever spiraling news cycle and sometimes we may indulge by admiring aesthetically pleasing pictures of blue waters and cute animals.
The possibilities are endless and we don’t have to feel like it is completely beyond our control.
Intuitive Eating (of Digital Media)
I’d like to leave you with this little thought I have been coming back to lately. When I used to struggle with unhealthy thoughts about food and fitness, I consistently felt helpless and indulged myself by consistently acknowledging I was helpless. I bounced from extreme to extreme, lethargy to mania, apathy to elation. Then I discovered intuitive eating.
Funnily, the concept itself is indeed intuitive, but that in itself was what struck me. Our procedural memory takes care of most habitual behaviors, so we don’t really have to think about how we eat (or scroll). And from personal experience and research, I feel the more we train ourselves to trust our bodies and minds whilst expecting better from and for ourselves, we find some peace. We filter through our pre-programmed mechanization and restructure our approach.
Our body tells us what it wants, when it wants it, but we have to look out for that little voice amidst all the noise.
I love your post and I think it touches on some very relevant themes, like how we’ve very much grown up in a period of rapid change – change that’s tangible to our generation in a way that it wasn’t before. I think it’s something we take for granted in general, how having to balance navigating our formational years with trying to keep up with the world has affected our methods of interaction (and communication) as they are today; very much food for thought! On a more personal note, I can completely relate to your shift from a private account to a public one in searching for engaging content – I’ve temporarily deactivated my personal Instagram in favour of a public running profile. It’s given me a space to engage with and post about things that I’m passionate about and want to connect with others over (i.e., running), that I didn’t necessarily think was fulfilled by my private profile. Having read your post, I can see in hindsight that I was also looking to cultivate my own “happy space” on the platform, and get away from the FOMO and self-comparison that I found myself experiencing with my private account. Thank you for sharing such a thought-provoking (and self0reflective) piece! x