Raise your hand if you used social media today. If you’ve posted in the past month. If any part of that post — photo, editing, caption, geotag — was vetted by someone else before publication. Wave it around if you’ve ever done something or gone somewhere specifically “for the ’gram.”
It’s true that this behavior has become normalized, and that I myself participate. Neither negates the fact that it’s totally bananas.
Prof. Lee Humphreys, communication, spoke about her new book, The Qualified Self: Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life, and how social media habits in the present day and the 19th century are similar.
I worked in a research lab at a university in my hometown this past summer and, for the first time in my life, experienced what it’s like to have a long commute — an hour and a half each way standing in a hot, humid, insanely crowded subway car. Most of my fellow commuters spent these long and miserable daily trips on their phones, either scrolling through Weibo (think Twitter) feeds, watching viral videos, playing online games, binging the newest hit TV series or reading trending articles on Wechat (a Chinese amalgamation of Facebook and Instagram). Hundreds of commuters with headphones on staring down at their smartphone screens was quite a sight be behold but also incredibly frustrating, especially when I had to transfer lines at one of the busiest stations downtown, and had to follow a massive crowd of people up flights of stairs to another platform, a process slowed down significantly by those who were too absorbed in their phones to even walk properly. Despite my frustration, and because social learning is a natural thing that we all do, a few days into this commuter life, I also started killing time by spending it solely on my phone, going through my Weibo feed more times than necessary, replying to comments, reading Wechat articles that I normally wouldn’t care for and, when all that was still not enough, busted out my VPN to go through Instagram and Twitter. Yet, as you may have guessed by now, aggressively working my way through every social media platform every morning and evening did not make me feel “more connected” to friends and family, all the articles I read did not make me significantly more knowledgeable in certain areas or enlighten me on social or political issues, nor did the viral funny videos make me happier.
It’s a well known fact that we have been surrounded by technology in almost all aspects of our lives. With buzzwords such as AI, deep learning, blockchains coming every month, technology now commands a lot of attention. And not in a good way. By surrounding, I mean a constant bombardment. By commanding attention, I mean controlling us.
I recently got back on Twitter, and it has been an experience. I haven’t been on Twitter since high school, and I returned to an entirely different world than the one I left behind. The last time I was trolling around on Twitter, I was 14 and subtweeting Coldplay lyrics at my AP Physics lab partner. Ryan, if you’re reading this, please note that while in retrospect I understand that the time and effort I put into finding the perfect lyric to encapsulate our (completely made up) relationship could have been better put to use attempting to achieve anything higher than a 2 on our AP exam, subtweets were an important part of my teenage experience, and I think you should be honored to have been a part of that. This time around, however, I joined with the intention of using Twitter as my news source, and while that has remained true, Twitter has also been something of an interesting experiment in how people today interact with one another and their respective opinions.
Thus there is a genuine terror, which I believe to be absolutely common, that my community might not think that I am the way I ought to be. This fear, I think, is at the heart of the aesthetic preoccupation that often drives our campus politics.
You probably remember that embarrassing photo you posted on Facebook last summer or the one in your family photo album with your two front teeth missing. Ever wonder why? It might have something to do with the way these memories were shared. A recent study by Prof. Qi Wang, human development, reveals that posting personal events on social media make those events significantly easier to recall. Wang is interested in studying social cognition, specifically how memories and personal experiences help shape an individual’s identity.
A recent report says that the average smartphone user checks Facebook 13.8 times a day. For college students, that number might be even higher. Our constant access has made social media our generation’s primary means of receiving and processing information. It is not unusual to find out where your friends are, learn about a new restaurant or hear about a heartbreaking tragedy for the first time on social media. The last few months have been particularly difficult, with newsfeeds serving as a constant reminder of the inequities in our society.