A few weeks before moving into college, one of my best friends’ mom gave me a piece of advice that I still kick myself for ignoring: “You should delete social media for a few months, just until you get adjusted to college. Knowing what everyone else is doing can really hurt.”
My friend’s mom, a parent to three college-aged girls, knew better than anyone that dependence on social media, especially during freshman year of college, can ruin anyone’s confidence. Even still, I ignored her. Falsely confident in my ability to see through social media bullshit, I didn’t give her seasoned advice the time of day. Rather, I moved into college as a self-described social media addict, ready to check, post, and like content on a variety of platforms.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to realize that social media culture, especially in college, is toxic. The way information about what others are doing and who they are with is so accessible that it’s bound to make anyone anxious, even those who think they are self-assured. If you’re not consumed by monitoring others’ platforms, you’re stressing over how your own social media presence is interpreted by others. Even before arriving on campus, I constantly obsessed over how my classmates at BC would perceive me. I strategically crafted my Facebook post for the “BC Class of 2024” group, hoping that if I presented the best version of myself that it would translate into some semblance of a social life on campus. I am completely aware of how stupid that sounds, but I feel like that’s how everyone else thinks too.
Social media is everyone’s personal highlight reel and anyone saying otherwise is just lying to themself. Even posts that are captioned “make [insert name of social media platform here] casual again,” serve to curate a particular image that the poster has deemed desirable. This is where the problem lies: highly curated, thought-out posts have no business serving as the standard by which we all compare each other. It is impossible to accurately interpret how others are doing—mentally or socially—based on social media posts.
But, like many college freshmen, I acted like social media was the Bible, which inevitably led to the anxiety my friend’s mom had warned me about. It only took a few minutes on Instagram, and a couple painfully accurate “For You page” TikToks to make me question my entire existence at Boston College. Was I going out enough? Should I have more friends? This social media-fueled anxiety feels like a 21st century hallmark of the college experience. But with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing even more social connections to be online, it is now harder to just delete social media like my friend’s mom suggested. For social lives, social media has become a life preserver—something that you shouldn’t take off, but wearing it makes it harder to swim.
Think about it—in a normal year, meeting friends based on traditional first impressions in class or through a club was standard. But now, with a majority of clubs holding meetings online and classes varying in formats, the traditional way of making friends has largely disappeared and been replaced by a Tinder-esque form of communication: stalking someone’s social media profile, DM-ing them, meeting up to get coffee, etc. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with meeting people this way. The issue is that we choose the people we reach out to based on an inauthentic social media presence rather than in-person interaction.
So, do I wish I deleted Instagram off my phone? Yes. But, do I rely on it daily to piece together a social existence during the pandemic? Absolutely. Does this reliance take a toll on my mental health and self-confidence? Most definitely. Should we all try to “detox” from social media? For sure.
Even though I’ve relied on social media this year, I do not plan on making it a habit. With my screen time reaching an embarrassing high, I think it might be time to kiss TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat goodbye. Next year, pandemic permitting, I will take my friend’s mom’s advice and focus on making meaningful connections face-to-face, rather than through the distorted lense of social media.
Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau/ Heights Editor