It’s no surprise that the world is hooked on social media. I, for one, spend countless hours scrolling mindlessly through the Instagram Explore Page. I’d be willing to bet that more often than not, I don’t retain a single image that I’ve scrolled past or even laughed at, and in the long term, it all amounts to massive time wasted. Nevertheless, social media provides us with an outlet through which we can keep ourselves entertained, make friends, and most of all, snoop in on the perfectly edited portions of other people’s lives. It’s formulated to be addictive, and it’s excellent at doing what it’s supposed to do.
Avoiding the addiction to scrolling through other people’s lives seems inevitable: with so many enticing photos and videos and Boomerangs, it’s difficult not to get sucked into the Clarendon-colored world. It’s in this desire that lies the evil of the addiction: envy.
Perfect bodies, fun-filled day-trips, boyfriends, girlfriends, and fancy lifestyles that seem unattainable flood the screen and my mind. The feeling that I can never have all the things other people seem to have is deafening, even if I know that they feel the same way. My inherent desire to be the best that I can be at anything is instantly crushed at the sight of my peers doing the things I haven’t yet done; loneliness instills when I realize I appear to be the only one left standing on the unedited side of the screen. It’s an unhealthy mindset that’s already difficult to avoid as a teenager in high school, and social media doesn’t do much to reduce our natural self-consciousness.
So, in a moment of desperation and because of a conditioned desire to fit in, my envy acts out. The intense want for something that I can’t have becomes an intense want for something that I can work for. I attempt to justify my envy as competitive spirit, but internally I know it’s just bitterness disguising itself as a work ethic.
More often than not, many of the things I do are done in reaction to the things I see my peers doing on social media. For example, when the weather gets warmer and all the girls don their new, skimpy bikinis in saturated photoshoots, I force myself to look at my body and ask is this body like theirs? It’s not that anyone but me would ever look at my body and compare it to the plethora of girls on Instagram, but there doesn’t have to be anyone else looking for me to want what I don’t have. Suddenly, the soft skin protruding from my stomach is no longer just a part of my body—instead, it seems like a biological rarity. It’s an imperfection that I harbor and the other girls don’t; in my mind, it’s something they’d notice if I posted my body on the internet. So I do something about it. I hate that I can’t look like them effortlessly, that their waists look smaller when they turn to the side, and that they can wear bodycon dresses without skin hanging out over the natural curves of the dresses. I sweat and I ache and I eat in a tiring attempt to look like people who will never care, and all for what? In this case, my Instagram envy offers no satisfaction. The way my body looks when compared to other girls quickly seems pointless when cooler heads prevail and my envy subsides. It all boils down to another waste of time and a ghastly skinny body—one which may look “healthier” but doesn’t feel it.
My online jealousy isn’t limited to such grim outcomes, however. There have been a select amount of times when viewing other people’s achievements inspired me to go out and work on my own, and somehow this sort of competition feels nobler due to its productivity. When I see my friends getting their licenses or a new job or going somewhere exciting or working hard on a new passion project, their productivity inspires my own, encouraging me to get off my phone and work on something. Usually, that something pertains to the thing they have that I want, be it studying for my permit test or filling out payment paperwork that I’ve been procrastinating or sitting down and working on a piece of writing that makes me happy. There can be positives derived from desire.
I think that ultimately there is a very fine line between the positive and negative influences of social media, and it’s all at the viewer’s discretion. The things that make me inspired and happy one day may upset me the next because I can’t have them right now and other people can. It’s childish any way you look at it, and it’s upsetting to me that I’ve let myself fall prey to this kind of emotion because of a photo that isn’t even mine. Social media has a huge impact on my life, obviously more than I know, and I think that while it may be fun to waste my time on it, these applications don’t do me any good in the end. I want to be able to inspire myself to work on the things I need to without being envious of others, and I want to be able to determine what’s good for me and what isn’t without comparing my lifestyle to someone else’s. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized how much of my life I base on the media I see, and how hard it is to shake my dependency on it. After all, it’s called an addiction for a reason. I think it’s a nice sentiment to say that I can just limit my time or delete the app, but after so long of having something to compare myself to, I’m not sure I could bear to part with it—no matter how badly I want to. However, as I’ve become more aware of my media habits, I’ve started to accept that other people’s selective successes are selective for a reason, but should be celebrated regardless, as I know I do the same thing. We pick and choose what we put online, and expect to be rewarded for it all, feelings be damned. For that reason, it’s all a work in progress. We are to be acutely aware of its harm and still continue to participate in it because it’s entertaining; social media is a vice in its purest, most harmless form.
By Sophia Moore