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Yuri Chang | I hate you, but I love you

Social media binge−eating

Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 08:12

After my semester−long investigation, I admit that my stance on social media is more conflicted than ever. This position, however, has developed from a simple dichotomy of love and hate to a more nuanced understanding that is also coupled with caution.

At the risk of sounding like a loser, I disliked social media simply because it made me feel more alone. These platforms that were designed with the purpose of connecting people instead heighten feelings of isolation, doing the exact opposite of what they set out to do.

“It’s a lonely business, wandering the labyrinths of our friends’ and pseudo−friends’ projected identities, trying to figure out what part of ourselves we ought to project, who will listen and what they will hear,” Stephen Marche wrote in his spot−on piece published in The Atlantic this past May.

What we, as users, publish online on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr accounts highlight our best selves, which are smart, motivated, funny and social. Of course, we are all of these things and more offline, but we don’t post nearly as much about the days when we feel like crap, when our plans are foiled and when results fall short of what was desired.

This practice of putting forth only the best creates an endless online realm of people’s latest accomplishments, party photos and happy family gatherings. The passive consumption of and broadcasting in this glamorized online space leads to FOMO, the acronym for the fear of missing out phenomenon.

We constantly check our social media accounts to ensure that we didn’t miss out on any parties worth going to from last weekend and that we’ve received invitations to all the right upcoming events. We monitor our peers’ accounts to not just see what they are up to but also to make sure that we are keeping up with them in the broad scheme of life. Did so−and−so get that finance job and did XYZ get into medical school? These are questions that we ask ourselves because of the FOMO that social media creates.

Psychologist and pioneer in online mental health Dr. John M. Grohol once described our social media consumption as eating all the ice cream sundaes in the world without considering any of the serious repercussions. We ingest as much social media as we can simply because we think we can. Our alone time has been replaced with checking status updates of other peoples’ lives instead of the necessary regular dose of self−reflection. Throughout the entire day we obsessively check our texts, emails and social media accounts.

For the past few years, I’ve been on and off Facebook mostly because of FOMO. I grew tired of the way it fostered feelings that just being myself wasn’t enough and that I needed to check Facebook to stay in the loop.

But yet, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t hate social media. In fact, I really appreciate the way it’s helped strengthen some of the relationships that I most treasure. I can admire my friends’ artwork on their online portfolios. I can see what topics my friends are passionate about by reading the articles they post on their newsfeeds. Personal blogs that my friends maintain show me a side to them that I normally wouldn’t get to see in day−to−day conversations. They can also send me songs that they think I would like or new artists that they have discovered.

Our relationship to social media is admittedly immature. This relatively new technology has opened up so many possibilities but has yet to undergo the lessons that are learned with time. We, as users, have to learn how to strike a healthy balance and so, in my very last column, I urge everyone to consider mindful social media eating.

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Yuri Chang is a senior majoring in international relations. She can be reached at Yuri.Chang@tufts.edu.

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