by Ines Zippe

Most of us remember childhood days spent wrecking coloring books, running wildly around playgrounds, and getting our hands and feet dirty in some good, clean fun. If you had a phone you were revered, but seldom likely to actually use this device. Not until sixth or seventh grade did texting and buzz chat (remember that?) come into play. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter followed, and, shortly after, Pheed and Gifboom. Anyone can remember the initial impact of Vine, and most recently Phhoto and Vscocam. Social media has united the world, and never before have we seen so much human connection and sharing. Yet, this pursuit of a more interconnected world has forced us to subscribe to the incredibly addictive nature of the internet; likes, retweets, and international debates on the color of a dress consume our brain. Though the way a person reacts to social media will obviously vary, there are many common trends. Reactions range from positive to negative, yet all significant in our reflection of how social media is shaping our world.

Many love social media because they see it as a way to express themselves in a more comfortable atmosphere. Taking a picture and uploading it to social media, or starting an opinion-based blog is usually much easier than actually speaking these beliefs out loud or printing out a picture and pasting it on a wall. With a click of a button, we have shared a little part of ourselves. It usually takes much more courage to open our mouths than to quickly tap a key. However, by receiving positive feedback on their ideas and slowly breaking through a blockade of shyness, people build confidence, feeling more comfortable to express themselves in the real world as well. Therefore social media is a way for people to break out of their shells and let go of fears.

Sometimes social media can have the completely opposite effect. Seeing all these people expressing themselves, people start comparing themselves to others and wondering if their pictures and posts are adequate. People may feel they should adapt to norms on sites, and through the lack of variety on social media. This does not promote creativity and individuality, and overall keeps the imagination constrained.

For most, social media is a distraction. Even after writing that last paragraph, I couldn’t help but reach for my phone; it’s a break from thinking, as scrolling through pictures or tweets only requires limited attention and elicits a quick, gratifying reaction. Writing a newspaper article or doing a math assignment requires us to dig a little deeper into our minds, pulling out equations and words stored deep inside us. But pulling out our phones and opening Instagram is easy and thoughtless; we rejoice in thoughtless relaxation that relieves our curiosities.

There is the exception of those who have created careers out of social media. Companies, entrepreneurs, and individuals who wish to make themselves known use it as platform for free advertising. These people can attribute an abundance of their success to social media; without it millions of people would never have discovered their startup. It has also facilitated the collaboration of companies, due to easy communication methods. Likewise, social media connects those from all walks of life, unites old friends, and serves to keep long distance friendships intact.

So there are good aspects of social media, and there are the bad. Due to its huge influence in our lives today, I doubt that it will disappear in the near future. My best advice it to use social media to your advantage; stay true to yourself through every Instagram post, tweet, or Facebook message, but remember that there is more to life beyond the screen.