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From Optimism to Cynicism, The Story of a Social Media Addict

Member of the LOG OFF Writers Group, Zainab Kamran, details her own experience with social media platforms, and how a desire to fit in led her down a path of self-destruction and pessimism.

It’s apparent that our attitudes have changed.

Human behavior has evolved in a perplexing manner, transitioning from a socially constructed rhetoric to a somewhat inept or incompetent one. Is technology to be blamed for it? The answer is complicated.

As a member of Generation Z, I faintly remember the late 2000’s go-to bulky laptops and Nokia phones with cushy buttons on them. These devices were a major part of our lives. The surge of smartphones was yet to be seen, and killing time was definitely not child’s play.

On that note, I recollect a six-year-old Zainab constantly ricocheting about the house, moving from one corner to the other, in a thirst for creativity. This was, obviously, at a time when smartphones didn’t have to intervene to satisfy people like me. And, as all the cliché sayings go, a bored mind can really do wonders. Looking back now, I realize the very importance of having space for boredom. With all the digital applications and social media platforms, boredom seldom takes control. And, with no home for creativity, our tendency to remain optimistic has slowly plummeted as well.

As my age progressed, I, like many young people, confided in social media to kill time. Little did I know that my addiction could bring out the worst in me. 2018 was an awful year for me. Impulsively joining Instagram to be connected with my friends, I expected a lot from a platform that had this penchant for consuming attention and then practically giving out nothing in reciprocation. I acknowledge that not all of us are targeted by social media in the same way, but as a twelve-year-old, wildly fascinated by technology, I, at a later time, felt betrayed. I felt betrayed because I had set up these expectations, some of them totally superfluous, that I believed could be met.

Almost seamlessly.

I made new friends later that year, each hugely involved (and trapped) in the chasm of social media. As a naïve tweenager, following their lead seemed like the right thing to do. I was utterly surprised to see all these girls at my school, who each had massive numbers of followers and likes. I believed that this was the best version of life--hundreds of likes, a few thousand followers. This felt right. And there I was, unintentionally pandering to crowds of people who barely even knew me. They noticed me, and those (dumb) moments felt like achievements.

Ironically, those fifteen minutes of fame barely lasted before these people moved on to give sections of their attention to other people like me.

With more usage and active hours on Instagram, I became exasperated with everything about the platform. On its facade, it glorified social connectivity and friendships, but digging deeper into it, there was a general sense of restlessness prevailing all over. There was this certain kind of haughtiness, an usual sort of narcissism that had sojourned over many of its users. Behaviors ranging from ignoring texts for no reason, to not responding to essential follow requests, these nonsensical acts seemed to be fulfilling for the people (who were mostly teenagers) I had followed on the platform.

I kept getting baffled by all these intricacies of social media, meanwhile trying to act in the same way as all the people I used to follow. I would have felt utterly stupid and futile if I was doing this now, but as expected from an innocent mind, I was just so caught up in the very thought of fitting in with all these “cool” people. Alas, I kept following the hubristic and toxic mentality that had permeated the premises of social media, and it patently had its consequences.

My friends were repulsed by me, but my prevailing sense of superiority and vanity simply shrugged off all the bad signs.

A key thing The Social Dilemma talks about is that, as a social media user, you feel like everyone agrees with you, because everyone in your feed sounds just like you. Once you’re in that state, you get easily manipulated.

You question people’s stupidity; you feel like you have this privilege of seeing this set of information and you feel baffled that they’re not aware of it. Well, the answer is that they’re not aware of it. They can never have the same information as you do.

I was in a similar kind of scenario. When the people I physically knew didn’t have access to the sort of information I used to get via my feed, or didn’t really act like me, my haughtiness increased to such an extent that I showed contempt to literally every person I possibly knew. My attitude, now firmly based in condescension, had gotten the best of me, and this later led to the adoption of a rather extreme attitude--cynicism.

This was also the time I tried to find answers. “Why are we so fabricated on social media?” “Are we really responsible for it?” “Are humans inherently vain and scornful?” My mind was overwhelmed with these mysteries. With more research, I got a more clear apprehension of what was going on.

And why exactly?

A realization hit me. I finally got to understand that people were nothing like the versions of themselves they were portraying on their accounts, and they too were just victims of social media’s toxic cycle that revolved around narcissism. The users were no one to blame, and it was actually the companies who were responsible for stimulating such cycles.

Realizing that, I tried to be positive again. Some problems and hindrances occurred, and I ultimately became hopeless for the people that used the platform. It’s like, I couldn’t do anything, and some people just didn’t want to get out of it for certain reasons. I surmised that this was to go on and on, and there was no use of being all positive and happy. That’s where the cynicism kicked in. I had these miscellaneous emotions all inside of me. I felt worried, angry, contemptuous, and sad for all the people who just couldn’t let go.

I honestly feel lucky enough for being able to take a hiatus from social media. It has progressively contributed to my personal growth. My inner optimism is sound, but as a part of a wider community consisting of different individuals from different backgrounds, I still feel this twinge of hopelessness whenever I try to analyze the ongoing situation of the online world.

However, things are changing. We’ve just started to have a conversation about it, and many young people are working hard to address the detrimental effects of social media. We’re seeing more solutions to problems that pertain to digital wellbeing, and I, being a part of the Log Off Movement, firmly believe that young voices like ours can alter the current realm of social media platforms.

With the gift of humanity, faded, but still with us, we can definitely transcend the fiasco-world of social media. At the end of the day, it’s all up to us.

References -

“A Netflix Original Documentary.” The Social Dilemma, September 9, 2020. Accessed September 16, 2020.

Cover photo by Jonas Svidras on Unsplash

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