The idea of ‘me’ is everywhere in social media. It’s in the term ‘selfie’, it’s projected in Facebook status updates, it’s the main focus of Snapchat, and it’s facing younger generations every day.
Each day there are at least 22 billions clicks on the Facebook ‘like’ or ‘share’ buttons, 400 million Snapchat snaps sent to friends and 700 million photos sent via Whatsapp (Ref). With the increasing influence of social media seeping into our lives, it’s time to consider what type of environment social media networks are creating and how this is influencing a dynamic generation of youth.
Social media offers incredible ways to keep connected, no matter who you are or where you are. It mobilizes millions of people towards common goals, and spreads awareness of global social issues like wildfire. My concern is not how it increases awareness, but how the space it creates thrives on the concept of self.
As shown in Gary Turk’s recent video, ‘Look Up’, the obsession with social media is causing closer relationships between people and their screens, rather than with actual people. This video went viral in early May and achieved over 24 million views in just 12 days.
Young people growing up in the current era are often referred to as the ‘iGeneration’. Yes it’s due to the technology-craze that surrounds us, but it could equally be due to the energy we put into curating our Self.
Firstly, there’s the concept of ‘selfies’, the popular trend of taking pictures of one’s self. Not only can these photos gain hundreds of likes within seconds, but many are supported by comments such as “beautiful”, “stunning” and “love it”. It’s an example of self-gratification, where people feel proud of how much attention they receive based simply on images of themselves.
The ‘selfie’ is also used to communicate and gauge others’ opinions. I was recently helping my brother choose a suit for his school dance. He tried on a tie, which looked great, but then asked me to take a photo so that he could send it to his friends to show them what it looked like. He already knew it looked fine so I refused to take the photo. The reply I got was, “That’s ok, I’ll just take a selfie.”
People are basing their actions on how much attention they will draw to themselves through social media networks. A young girl introduced the term Facebook ‘prime time’ to me, admitting she doesn’t post pictures of herself until later in the day, when more people are likely to see it. Similarly, the tendency to update each other about everything can reduce our concerns to superficial levels.
Then there are the ‘Look Back’ videos, which were created to mark Facebook’s 10th birthday. These videos were each personalized to be about their users. Did you know that 720 million people retrieved their videos? That’s 720 million people all looking at a summary of their experiences on Facebook. If only it was these same millions of people using their time to connect with and help others, rather than staring at themselves.
In this sense, social media is a force of society that encourages passivity. But social media can also be used to bring the world together in promoting humanitarian issues or global messages. It is only by critically analyzing its effects that we can use social media to inspire people into the field of action, rather than consuming our days with personal updates.
Human beings need a break from projecting their identities, so that they can instead build genuine friendships, get to know their communities and work together in bringing about change. These actions are outward-looking, requiring a sense of humility and sincerity.
Life is about thinking of others, and supporting each other to make a difference. Let’s focus on how our individual talents, skills and abilities can contribute positively to what’s happening around us in the real world:
“One’s spiritual development requires active service to humanity, the struggle to overcome oppression and injustice in unifying and constructive ways, and the alignment of one’s time and energy with active processes that advance human civilization.” (Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity).
Courtney Pelkowitz is studying a Master of International Affairs at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. In previous years she has volunteered with community development programs, particularly for youth, and an empowerment program for 12-15 year olds.