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Words by: Maggie Zhou
Art by: Freya Lauersen

No, this isn’t another article about the dangers of cyberbullying, or how Facetune has distorted our perception of beauty, or how social media is just a highlight reel. Because we get it.

We’re the generation that is all too familiar with flashing notifications and continuous scrolling. Social media is second nature to us; our thumbs know the ins-and-outs of our mobile keyboards and without even looking, can instantly identify where each of the 3300+ emojis sit.

Endless studies suggest a correlation between Instagram and negative mental health issues like high levels of anxiety, depression and bullying. But as Instagram continually adds more features that allow for increased interactions, it may just be amplifying these problems.

As American sociologist David Riesman once said, “the more advanced the technology… the more possible it is for a consider- able number of human beings to imagine being somebody else.” And that was back in 1950. Almost a century down the track, you can bet Mr Riesman would have his knickers-in-a-knot if he found out about the pixelated lives we lead.

Toxic Instagram culture has extended beyond just appearances, and judgement is now placed on every aspect of one’s life, from the food you eat to the content you consume. What you read, what you do and how you spend your time is now open to scrutiny. We have well and truly passed the era when sun-baked Jenner bodies and snatched makeup were our only insecurities.

With the Pinterest-cool-girl aesthetic reigning the Insta-sphere, candid photos of nonchalant yet picture-perfect scenes are unavoidable in your daily scrolls. You know the ones — those zoomed-in unedited mirror selfies, that morning coffee cup complete with a red lippy stain, and blurry sunset photos.

All of these seemingly impromptu, casual live-in-the-moment photos actually set a higher standard of unattainable life goals.

Alexandra Mondalek, a New York fashion reporter, told The Guardian that Instagram is, “the rat-race lifestyle boiled down into the palm of your hand, and sometimes it feels inescapable.”

Now we’re being told to be perfect and to have the perfect lifestyle but to not show any effort or semblance of concernment. To look good, but don’t try too hard doing so. In a world where women are constantly faced with contradictions — Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin. Don’t be too large. Don’t be too small. Eat up. Slim down — this comes as no surprise.

But some may argue that, “hey, isn’t this more authentic than overly filtered, skin-smoothed photos?” But the question is — can social media ever be fully authentic?

By picking up your phone and turning on your camera, doesn’t that destroy the idea of authenticity? Purely by posting an Instagram story, you are faced with so many decisions. Filter, or no filter? What angle? What lighting? What caption? What font? What colours? While these insignificant choices might not seem like a lot, they all play a part in curating your online persona. The spontaneity of a moment is gone the moment you decide to open your camera.

On Instagram, authenticity is capital. But what unfortunately manifests from this is the expectation to overshare. We have become all too comfortable knowing the intricacies of someone’s personal life and worse — we feel entitled to it. If someone chooses to not share information about their partner, their family or their job, it feels insincere and we question what they’re hiding. Humans are naturally curious beings, but what happens when that curiosity is overfed?

On average, we check our smartphones 85 to 101 times a day. In 2019, the average person spent two hours and 23 minutes on social media each day. Our brains have been rewired by social media, literally.

The influx of likes, followers and messages release dopamine, the chemical responsible for happiness. And of course, your brain naturally craves more and more of it. A study published last year even revealed that ‘arousal increased’ when opening an app like Instagram. Yep, you are being aroused by your phone.

Anecdotally, I view life as a series of Instagrammable opportunities. I have a stressed-out low hum at the back of my mind that urges me to document every moment. If I don’t photograph a nice meal or a good outfit, I feel a pang of grief. My phone is a constant companion that nags and asks me, if I didn’t photograph it, did it really happen?

I know this will come off as deluded, shallow, narcissistic and out of touch to so many. But this is what addiction looks like. I currently have a nine-hour screen time average. I pick up my phone around 160 times a day. I work primarily in social media and use that as a cover for my obsessive scrolling.

I’ve had to learn — and am still learning — how to rewire my brain. I don’t want to look back and remember my formative twenties as years spent deciding which photos I should upload. I’m unlearning and relearning what it means to be present.

I want to relish in good conversations, to get lost in books like I used to. I want to be comfortable sitting alone with my thoughts. I want to be bored. I want to bask in awkwardness rather than subconsciously picking up my phone.

It’s a slow journey. My fingers twitch and my head itches for new notifications, new buzzes, new dings. But humans are social creatures. We need physical touch, real connections and raw emotions. We’re not made to live through a glass screen.

So here’s to creating memories that a camera can’t quite capture.

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