Mirror Me: The Seductive False Reflection of Social Media

By Felicity Edwards

Illustration by Yifei Yang

Social media: it’s the intangible beast that is omnipresent and arguably omnipotent, but is it omnibenevolent? Hm, now that one is up for debate.

In modern society we cannot deny that, for a large majority of us, social media has become a prevalent part of many of our day to day lives. If you peer around in any public place chances are you’ll see someone’s eyes glued to their phone, fervently scrolling on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever trending social app is the next best thing., whether the person be seated on a bus or train, waiting in a queue, or marching along and having to make a concerted effort not to collide with the lamp post in front of them.

The amount of time that the average person spends on social media has increased yearly. 2017 statistics showed us that the average person spent nine minutes more on social media having gone up from 126 minutes to 135 minutes on average per day.

This number is thought to only increase in the coming years. Undeniably, we are investing more of our time and focus into social media than ever before, but why, and at what cost?

Conversely, as we invest more time into these channels, the idea of social media causing widespread individual anxiety, depression and lack of satisfaction and happiness in our own lives is increasing. There are even rehabilitation centres designed for those of us who can’t quit the clicking or stop the incessant scrolling. More “influencers” are declaring themselves to be on temporary social media “cleanses” in order to help them de-stress and take a break from it all. But we must go back to the ‘why’ of it all? Can social media really be so sinister?

When I think about the damage that social media can do to our self-esteem and mental health, I automatically think of an episode from Charlie Brooker’s popular series Black Mirror; a futuristic series which focuses on the potential chilling realities that technology could wreak on the earth and humankind. Nosedive is the name of an episode which follows a young woman who lives in a world where her overall worth and credibility as a human is decided by her ratings on a platform very similar to Instagram where people share glossy content of their lives and rate each other. As the woman becomes obsessed with her ranking we see her tumble into a pandemonium of doing more and more reckless things as she desperately tries to climb the ladder to become one of the social elite. It’s a poignant and sobering episode, and though some may argue hyperbolic, I would say that the points Brooker makes in the episode are highly relevant to our attitude towards social media today.

If we look at one of the most popular Instagram accounts with thousands of followers and millions of likes, then chances are we can see why these accounts have seduced so many. The aesthetic of this content is almost perfect. Seemingly happy, carefree, attractive people show off their chic brunches, exotic holidays, adorable pets, idyllic morning run, cool parties, workout routines, spontaneous get togethers and so on. Scrolling through these pages can seem like an avalanche of “happiness”. One can feel almost smothered by this technicolour wonderland of joy. As we incessantly scroll it’s almost like we’re trying to quench an insatiable thirst for more content, but increasingly more of us are comparing our own lives to those “perfect” ones in front of us. We become increasingly pressured to adhere to these standards of Insta-worthy lives and begin to compare ourselves to others. Questions swim around our heads such as: why am I not as interesting or pretty or successful as X? Why does my life not resemble this one huge carnival of happiness and pleasure?

We become obsessed with portraying this idealised version of ourselves to the outside world via social media. We feel like we are comparing ourselves to others, but really we are becoming skilled in comparing ourselves to this unrealistic and synthetic idea of false happiness expertly honed by social media.

How we can we feel so stuffed with the sickly sweet saccharin content of social media, and yet feel so empty, hollow and unfulfilled at the same time? Perhaps it’s because we’ve become obsessed with the quick fix, rather than the sustainable option.

Humans are curious by nature, and we thrive by learning and surrounding ourselves with others who challenge us and expand our horizons whilst offering us a chance to be social and engage with each other. Dopamine is like sugar for the brain. It causes us to feel elated and curious, as we would be by meeting a new person or learning a new skill.

The purpose of social media is not to keep us on one specific thing; it is to keep us incessantly scrolling, trapped in this vortex of relentless searching. We invest our time and focus into something which is not always for our benefit. Our awareness of how much we use social media becomes blurred and we are desensitized to the amount of time we’re staring into a screen. As we continually pour more of ourselves into our phones and social media accounts, we run the risk of losing our desire for meaningful connections and relationships and knowledge as our curiosity is used up by just simply spending half an hour tapping through Instagram. Not only that, but as we continually compare ourselves to an unrealistic ideal we simultaneously run the risk of damaging our mental health and increasing the risk of anxiety and depression.

The synthetic idea of “happiness” as portrayed on social media is not a realistic representation of how people truly lead their lives, but many have bought into the propaganda and are now paying the price. Practicing awareness and mindfulness about our consumption and usage of social media is paramount. The mirror of social media is not a true reflection of our lives, and that something for all of us to remember is that our worth is not measured by our amount of likes and followers. Choosing a longer lasting cause of serotonin (happiness) set off by meaningful conversations with loved ones, exploring a new place using only your intuition, learning a brand new hobby and skill and so on will prove more fulfilling tasks and give us longer term happiness. The dopamine hit of social media may be fleetingly sweet, but be careful of what it could start to rot on the inside.