Issue 21

Socially Content Yet Blissfully Unaware

How many of us are guilty of scrolling through social media all day? How many of us check our Instagram feeds before getting out of bed in the morning? Surveys say media users spend 2.5 hours per day on social media for various reasons. The pervasiveness of social media has come to take over our lives and now defines a large part of who we are. One look at someone’s Instagram feed, and you can learn their likes, dislikes and who they are. Or at least how they wish to be perceived. 

Social media is an effective tool in helping individuals put their best foot forward. Amidst the glitz and glamour of perfectly curated feeds and highlight reels, it’s often easy to forget that most of it is not real, which is not to say that it is magic or a hologram, but rather a collection of a few memorable moments in one’s life. However, this is not true for all platforms, and they differ in the levels of authenticity portrayed. Instagram and Facebook, for example, are associated with hindered wellbeing and a more made-up version of reality, compared to Twitter which aids positive emotions and is considered a space to express honest opinions. 

One of the prime reasons for monetary-free access to social media is the financial backing by advertisers – both for our time and attention. In 2021, Facebook made $114.9 billion from advertising alone. Advertisements have hijacked social media and transformed it from a platform designed to share and connect to a marketplace to buy and sell. What you’re selling has also changed with people increasingly turning themselves into consumable brands and creating a new career path of ‘influencer’.  

Social media trends like ‘that girl‘ promote an ideal lifestyle, extensively curated to drive views to accounts. Such trends flourish and are enormously replicated because of their aspirational value to the audience that consumes them. ‘That girl’ wakes up and makes her Instagram-worthy morning coffee. She shows you her hyper-productive morning routine, wears only the most trendy clothes, flaunts her handsome partner, and makes her day look like she hardly works. She romanticizes life so well that watching her leaves you hating yourself for not having the life she does and feeling guilty for being human. The truth is, ‘that girl’ doesn’t show you the messy parts of her life. She hides the breakdowns and the breakups, doesn’t show you the extent of hard work that goes into shooting those morning routine videos, and forgets to mention that the clothes were part of a barter collaboration. ‘That girl’ carefully frames a narrative that makes you either want her or want to be her. 

Other trends, such as the ‘daily reminder that social media is fake‘ trend, focus on celebrating human flaws and all the physical insecurities social media users try to hide. These serve as a juxtaposition, reminding viewers that even ‘that girl’ is like you. While we all claim to be aware that social media is not real and applaud those who upload unedited, no-filter images, when it comes to ourselves, we find it impossible to find that same compassion. 

It’s not all that girl’s fault, though. She is simply a cog in the social media machine. The real culprit is the algorithm created to keep consumers hooked and fuel their daily mindless scrolling. Studies have shown that endless likes, shares, and retweets on social media platforms give users the same dopamine release as gambling and consuming drugs. Algorithms make use of this easy addiction and curate your feed in a way that repeatedly exhibits content of the same niche. They reinforce the ideas and feelings of positive or negative self-evaluation that the content elicits. 

Influencers leverage the idea of relatability and aspiration to construct an online persona that will be liked and replicated by their audiences to sell branded products. A study shows approximately 80% of consumers have made purchases based on influencer recommendations. Consumers are more likely to adhere to a peer recommendation than a brand advertisement and require social proof when making purchase decisions. One tends to forget that these influencers run businesses driven by a profit-oriented approach. Brands are becoming more and more aware of how to manipulate a consumer’s buying habits through influencer marketing. It is a consumer’s right to be made aware of these practices and their responsibility to ask for more information.   

At the single click of a button comes both the ease of following and unfollowing these pages. But aspiring to these lifestyles, watching this content, and repeatedly scrolling become habits one can’t forego. There is a rising herd mentality and aimless following that social media breeds. Are you losing your individuality? Is everyone slowly morphing into the most viewed social media personas, or is there still hope to escape the hypnosis of mindless consumption? 

You are the content you consume because the content, in the form of other people’s preferences, videos, and the level of familiarity, becomes the basis for your decisions. Technology allows access to a global audience, known and unknown, and suggests everything right from friends to books and music. The consumer now believes that if everyone is doing it, it must be right. We have become so dIgitally desensitized to the world outside our screens. If we take a step back, we can see that we have lost sight of what’s real and not.

Maahira Jain is a third-year student at Ashoka University studying Psychology and Media studies. She is a movie buff and is extremely passionate about writing and travelling.

Reya Daya is a third-year student, studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and music.

Picture Credits: Unsplash

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 8

Digital Detox in Isolation

I used to joke with a friend: if you want to feel time slow down,  either be on a treadmill or lose your phone for a day. This is more true than ever in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. From weddings, birthday parties and even funerals shifting online, there aren’t several options but to make peace with being relegated to a small square on Zoom. However, it’s not just Zoom that’s the culprit but also our escalating usage of social media that has increased our screen time. A study of 4500 individuals showed that the majority of respondents acknowledged that their social media consumption (72%) and posting (43%) has peaked during the pandemic. 

In the process of reflecting more critically on my relationship with technology, I started researching more about how social media affects us. A few hours later, I come across a purportedly ‘random’  advertisement asking me, no, almost accusing me of being a ‘social media addict’, “Are you a social media addict? Take this quiz to find out!” As much as I felt called-out by the advertisement, it was hard to avoid. The next thing I knew, I took the quiz. A few hours later, I was watching a rabbit video and had already stalked a friend’s boyfriend’s mother’s sister. How I landed there, I wasn’t sure of that myself either. However, by the end of the day, I knew I was a social media addict!

Social media addiction, according to Addiction Centre is defined as, “a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to it such that it impairs other important life areas.” In the previous issue for OpenAxis, Rujuta Singh argued that “in many ways, the addictive nature of social media is a feature, not a design flaw.” Studies indicate that notifications from retweets, likes and shares trigger the release of dopamine within the brain — producing effects similar to that of consuming cocaine. 

A lot of people are increasingly becoming aware of how social media rewires the brain and affects our interaction, yet a few are willing to make a change. I would confess I am one of those who haven’t been willing to make a lasting change for long. Every now and then, I would delete Instagram after either getting bored, disgusted or both, however, my Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) would compel me to be back before the end of the day. This time though, I decided to try something new and radical — a digital detox in complete isolation. 

Digital Detox in Isolation

In 1654, the philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” I didn’t quite imagine how tough it is to sit still when I made the decision to quit social media for a week in complete isolation.

Usually, I would wake up to be reminded of my FOMO through Instagram stories of my friends being out. However, the decision of giving up my social media gave me another kind of depressing FOMO. Will I be okay with missing out on posting a cute #couplegoal picture on Valentine’s Day? Are my friends sending me memes that I am not able to see? I didn’t just intensely desire those mundane interactions but craved them. I found myself thinking about whether my friends and family might just forget my presence.

This wasn’t what I imagined when I decided on a “digital detox.” I imagined a calmer, more composed and mindful person. I expected myself to be someone who would want to exercise, be more productive and spend time reading books and doing yoga. Isn’t this how they usually portray people who do a digital detox?  Instead, I found myself getting agitated, bored and just re-reading the same emails — basically utterly unproductive.

I didn’t have the urge to pick up a novel when I knew I couldn’t post a picture or I didn’t quite enjoy my isolation meals as much as I would have. Neither did it lead to a decluttering of my mind, the way I anticipated it would. In fact, being away from social media during complete isolation made me feel bored at best, and lonely and depressed at worst.  Why was I experiencing what I was experiencing, and is digital detox even possible and a worthwhile endeavour to undertake in today’s age? 

Impossibility of a Digital Detox 

“I don’t think digital detoxes are realistic anymore” writes Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee, author of Deviced!: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. She further writes “We can’t live a connected and informed life that we really need to now, without some form of tech.” At a time especially when one is isolating, alone or quarantined, is it really a wise decision to do a digital detox then? While some wellness experts and articles strongly suggest that digital detox is good for your wellbeing, I personally found that in my experience, it made me more agitated.

A study by  Lancaster University found that as previously postulated, there is no direct ‘proven’ correlation between poor mental health and social media. Even in studies that claim a connection between the two, fail to answer whether poor mental health leads to more social media usage or vice versa. In fact, the same study by Lancaster University posits that worrying about our smartphone use is likelier to cause more depression and anxiety than using the tech. 

It raises the question of whether our brains have adopted technology to the extent that social media has become indispensable and unavoidable? If so, will just accepting that lead to more mental peace? Dr Doreen certainly believes so. She compares our relationship with technology to that of an essential item like food, and in that light, a digital detox is an equivalent of extreme diet. What we could and should strive for then is a mindful, purposeful use of social media instead of a drastic step like a digital detox. This would not just help cultivate a more meaningful relationship with technology but also renegotiate the terms of technology to our terms.

Oh wait, brb, let me quickly share this idea on Facebook! See ya! 

Ridhima Manocha is a final year English and Media Studies student at Ashoka University and has authored the book, The Sun and Shadow.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).