How social media is failing us

By Humra Laeeq

During one of the lectures I attended on ‘The Web and the World: Life in the Age of Internet’, Siddharth Narain, lawyer and Research Associate at Sarai – Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi, made statements that struck cords with many. Speaking of social media and contemporary concerns, the issue around how social media shapes how we live and behave, took centre stage. While we are aware of how much Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and their familial likes have infiltrated our daily lives, a striking trend seems to be visible. Some youngsters have deactivated their accounts and distanced themselves from social media. Among the most widely used platforms are Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, and youngsters seem to show dissatisfaction largely with these three. The question is: in an age where our mobile phones are almost anatomical extensions of our bodies, what motivated them to do so?

The increasing dissatisfaction with social media

A study of 5,000 students commissioned by Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference found that 63 percent said they would not care if social media did not exist and a whopping 71 percent had taken a break from social media. Anti-technology discourses have been running in contemporary times to target how disadvantageous social media can be. Whereas in an earlier period people used to ‘talk’, they now ‘chat’.

Breakdown of communication, increased addiction and decay of personal skills have been a concern throughout present times. However, one must avoid the generalisation of reasons of why and how people express dissatisfaction. The problems that people now face are deeper and more complex than how one would see them-they are more internal than external. Such concerns can neither be generalised nor made objective. Each user experiences them individually, and that too with specific social media platforms.

Facebook-the ‘too open’ space

Since its launch back in 2004, Facebook has been the most widely used social networking site and can be called the progenitor of most other social media sites. In a space where people can share their photos, videos, memories and even live videos, Facebook has acted as a mirror to our real, practical lives. Forget social gatherings, you could meet and greet old and new friends by a few clicks on the screen. This exactly seems to be an issue for some users. For these people, they were experiencing a real breakdown of relationships. 25-year-old Sayan says “My friend did not tell me he was getting married. He was expecting me to know it through Facebook statuses.” As trivial as the issue might sound, people have started making social media platforms as a real substitution for communication. Another says “Facebook is too vast for me. You can look up anyone, screenshot their pictures and send them message requests. Many times I feel threatened.” Undeniably, Facebook allows you to throw around offensive messages, statuses and statements directed at people.

Instagram: perceived perfection trumps it all

Instagram originally started out for posting pictures and videos sans texting and ‘stories’. However, it soon transformed into the ‘proverbial’ wall for narcissist users, according to many. With people posting flattering pictures of themselves, the issue of social validity exacerbated. People not only started glamourising the idea of ‘perfect bodies’ and ‘perfect lives’, on the contrary, they also began to body shame those who did not conform to the Instagram life or the popular hashtag #instalife. “I just got so tired of seeing people using Instagram as a tool to gauge their self-worth. It just lets people you barely know show off the good parts of their lives”, states another deactivated user. These kinds of ‘good lives’ also establishes standards of what and how lives should be lived, and lets us judge those who do not conform.

Snapchat: the substitute for human memory

Snapchat is the space to share ‘stories’, a concept later picked up by the former sites. Stories, equivalent to a user’s life recorded on camera, has substituted his or her eyes and ears today. “It was a wedding celebration at my place, and I ended up recording most of the function on my Snapchat. I ended up not actually viewing the function, but in my Snapchat ‘memories’ on my phone rather in my actual memory. Hence, I realized my Snapchat took over my life.” The phenomenon is not particular but prevalent over the current generation largely because all of them tend to indulge in the similar process, of making their apps the lens through which they view the world, quite literally.

As a reality, social media was an inevitable development back in the 2000s when the IT industry boomed, and computers became new members of the virtual world. The trend towards the incorporation of virtual reality into the real, or more correctly the usurpation of the latter by the former does not seem to stop. For human memory, we have Snapchat memories. For daily experiences, we have ‘stories’. For friends, we will soon have Siri and its children. Ironically, the more we want to document our lives, the more we end up alienated. This is not to say that social media contributed nothing to our lives. Sure, it has allowed us to connect more and spread awareness about pressing issues. Yet, the downside cannot be pushed under the carpet. Perhaps, contemporary struggles of being on social media, failing at adapting to it and ultimately leaving it might not seem serious at a macro level. However, it reveals concerns on the micro level regarding how people perceive themselves and their world in the 21st-century world.


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