I’ve been thinking about the positive effect social media can have lately. Positive media was my original blog focus so no surprises there, but as technology gets more complex, so do the consequences. Social media can have some great benefits but also some really negative effects. Let’s think about the positives first.
I was looking into insta poetry and illustrations recently. (For a lesson on hybrid texts #teacherlife) It’s a genre that’s been developing for some time on social media, not just Instagram; I’m talking about short poems or observations that are shared, usually with some kind of illustration, about an aspect of daily life, that make you go, “same.” Rupi Kaur, Atticus, Tyler Knott Gregson and others have been creating poetry like this for years now, their poems as popular on Instagram as Pinterest. Mari Andrews and other illustrators are well known personalities on social media for their pithy observations of life, love and overlooked details of the everyday.
I discovered Morgan Harper Nichols last year, a writer who shares words of encouragement, often related to specific circumstances people have written to her about. Yet, pretty much everything she shares seems like it’s written directly for me. Maybe I just need an unusual amount of encouragement, but I think it takes skill to create words that are so relatable, and to understand what others are experiencing. Poetry hasn’t always been my favourite thing to read, but more and more I am appreciating its ability to speak to people in powerful ways.
This is the good side of social media, the side where it lives up to its name and brings people together no matter how far apart they are. Unfortunately, as with all things humans get their hands on, we also manage to ruin it. People are increasingly criticising Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for being negative spaces. Once designed to share our lives with people we care about, they are instead places where strangers criticise each other. Despite people’s constant complaints about these websites, I don’t think this is the websites’ fault, more the fault of people being rude online.
One of the biggest criticisms today is that people don’t present their real lives on social media. Accounts can be curated beyond reality. If one wishes, they could create an online presence featuring endless brunches and beach days, even if that’s a minor part of their life. And who is surprised? A number of years ago, on Facebook, we included the mundane aspects of our day in status updates (I can never not cringe when my Facebook memories remind me how much I shared my study complaints circa 2010), but these days updates are reserved for life’s highlights- the nights out with friends, the concerts, the engagements, the holidays. These are all good things and we want to know what is happening in the lives of people we care about, but the flipside is it can look like everyone else’s lives are a ferris wheel of exciting events, surrounded by fun people, which leaves us wondering why our lives aren’t so exciting, when the reality is most people just aren’t posting about their everyday chores.
I think people are more aware of the reality for their friends, but it can be a bit harder to remember when it comes to influencers, Instagram models and the like. Maybe their lives really are that glamorous? People have made a living from their fame for years, however, social media is bringing their messages into our living rooms at a constant rate. Some are just making a living from selling products. Some are trying to help others live a healthy lifestyle, improve their mental health or share something interesting. But as with all things social media, it gets taken too far. Influencers sell dieting products, exercise programs and fast fashion for others to try and attain their ideal. This is nothing new, but the onslaught is greater than it has ever been and I worry especially about the generations who are regularly on social media and how normalised it is for them to see these images and think that is either how they should look or how they should expect people to look. Not to mention the way people are pretending they have deals with companies to look like they are influencers themselves. Or, my pet peeve, how normal it’s become to post a selfie with a motivational quote- I don’t mean when someone is reflecting on their day or offering encouragement, more the unrelated quote captioning a bikini shot or some such. I do recognise, however, that there are all sorts of reasons people want validation online, let alone the peer pressure (although if that quote is a Bible verse I’m a bit less understanding; I just don’t think Jesus died for you to get approval of your body on the internet).
So with all these complications, why even consider the good aspects of social media? Why not just throw the internet out and start again? Aside from the dystopian consequences, the examples I mentioned earlier are a good place to start. They are proof that despite frustrations and difficulties, there are lots of elements of beauty still around us. Whether it’s a quote that reminds you that you are not alone, an comic that makes you laugh or a post from a friend you haven’t seen in a while, if we’re going to curate our social media, let’s do so in a way that encourages us and the people around us. No one is perfect and no one is going to single-handedly save us from detox teas (although Jameela Jamil is making a good attempt), but we can make choices about how we interact on social media, how honest we are and whether we follow accounts that make us lose self esteem or that remind us of our own, and others’, worth.