‘You Have Two New Notifications’

Moms were wrong about blaming phones for headaches, when they should have blamed them for annihilating your self-esteem.

Wednesday Oct. 13 at 9 p.m. was the exact time when I got two notifications on my phone. One was Duolingo reminding me that I was way behind on my French lessons. The other was a screen time report. Now, your author has a knack for making promises to do better next week, every week. But since I have been watching a lot of Ted Talks on self improvement these days, I decided to dig a little deeper and see which app was the culprit behind four out of five hours worth of daily screen time. It was none other than Instagram. I started falling down a rabbit hole of what else Instagram has done, besides distracting me from studying for midterms (and writing this article).

The cons are not limited to one’s dwindling GPA and the incomplete lessons — academics is just the tip of the iceberg. Social media has set some unrealistic expectations that make everyone feel like a failure, even if they’re not quite sure why. After all, how can you compete with that one celebrity family with millions of followers and perfect bodies? Not to mention that their posts are sponsored by brands that fund their exotic “workout regimes” (aka surgeries) that make them look even more unattainable, and give people of all age groups self-esteem issues.

Truth be told, the only failure here is the collective inability to recognize that social media is built to do just that. In fact, it thrives on our misery. Instagram earns money largely from advertising. Usually, you are more likely to click on an advertisement if you are in actual need of the product. But if you aren’t in dire need of anything, then social media will prey on your insecurities and generate a fallacious need.

Instagram uses user activity to suggest content, if Instagram catches you on a rough day, when you happen to be scrolling through posts and viewing celebrity endorsed products that claim to ‘fix’ your insecurities; Instagram starts seeing you as Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and volunteers you as tribute to an array of brands selling similar products that flood your explore page. Take Kylie Cosmetics for example, Kylie Jenner had been the centre of media speculation for getting lip fillers. She weaponized the attention to market the launch of her lip kits via instagram — in minutes, she was able to sell 15,000 kits. This made Jenner and instagram their money. But as for Jenner’s young audience, and listening to her lies about not having fillers, calling it a wonder of makeup, a magical outcome of puberty, unaffordable prices of the kits — shattered their confidence and led to the Kylie Jenner lip challenge which culminated with people ending up in hospitals.

If you’re someone who does not fall for these tricks and instead seeks posts on body positivity and self-love, Instagram will resort to displaying posts about workshops and programmes that help one cope. This is great until you realize that there is a tiny ‘sponsored’ at the top left corner of these posts, and that Instagram is ultimately offering a solution to a problem that it itself contributes to or in some cases creates. So in either case the app profits, meanwhile either your self-esteem or your bank account loses.

In that manner, social media is no different than all the multinational companies that contribute to climate change and then launch “green campaigns.” They all are providing weak antidotes to extremely potent poisons of their own making. Therefore, no one goes on an Instagram swipe session and emerges a winner.

What irks me is that social media can promote an unscrupulous culture where fame triumphs over morality. Seeing Jake Paul’s ostentatious lifestyle — the swanky cars, the team 10 house and the lavish parties — might send some of his fans who are dissatisfied with their present circumstances into a vicious cycle of self-hatred and dejection. Despite Paul’s allegations of racism, his age inappropriate content, the police reports against him for public nuisance and an endless array of scandals, in the eyes of his followers it always seems like the grass is greener on his end.

Dr. Allison Forti is a licensed clinical mental health counselor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and the associate director of the online counseling programs at Wake Forest University. In an interview with Forbes, she revealed that, “What social media users ‘attempt’ to sell and ‘how’ it is consumed from a psychological point of view are two different things.”

Forti went on to say, “Social media accounts promoting the message, ‘strong not skinny’ may be selling body positivity but consumers may be buying messages that set new aspirational norms. For someone at risk for an eating disorder, the voices in their head may shift away from a fear of weight gain, but still aspire toward body modification and restriction — to obtain their version of a strong body — that is fueled in shame and self-loathing.” Therefore, despite well-intentioned posts, you might be influencing or being influenced in an unhealthy manner.

As tempted as I am to go on about the evils of social media, I have to commend it for its role in connecting people and discovering job opportunities. For some patients in urgent need of an organ transplant, like Bo Harris, social media has given them a platform where they can ask for help and find donors. Social media has content that suits everyone, with the greatest gift of all being memes. As such, opposed to a complete elimination, let’s try to practice mindful consumption. The key to navigating social media in a manner that doesn’t wreck your self-esteem is to avoid making comparisons, and to compliment yourself on even your most seemingly trivial accomplishments. Realistic progress doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen in the absence of setbacks.

Speaking of small victories, since the completion of this article, I reduced my screen time by 30 minutes, and I am ecstatic about this minor accomplishment; as for DuoLingo, I will deal with that next week.


Photograph by Catherine Reynolds

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