Social media: a catch-22

Date written

3 February 2022

Reading time

7 minutes

Social media has become a staple in everyday life with the internet. We heavily rely on it for just about anything — whether it's maintaining connections with people, entertainment through memes, or spreading important news. There are spaces and communities for just about anything you're passionate about, so at first glance, social media really does have a utopian aspect to it at its inception.

Over the years, though, we've seen how social media has the power to change things negatively, not just at the individual level but also possibly affecting countries and the entire world. I used to be an avid social media user in my early teenage days. Everyone around me was signing up for Instagram when I had a Windows Phone in my hand. I recall being agitated that there wasn't an Instagram app for it for a few years when everyone else on other platforms had. Now, though, I'm somewhat cautious and have conflicting feelings regarding it. Sure, it provides many benefits that I think are nice to have as a teenager. Still, there are some detriments that I believe outweigh the benefits.

I'm not writing this to justify why you shouldn't be using social media — I think many other sources can help you make your mind up. I'm here to share a little about my experience with social media and whether I might consider joining social media again. I tried joining Twitter at the start of the year but deleted my account just after a week or two; I'll explain more about that later on, too.

Joining social media

When I first joined my first social media platform, Facebook, most things weren't really in my hands. I remember one of my parents creating an account for me, justifying that "I might need it in the future." I recalled us sitting in the living room and discussing the password and email address to create the account. It was only until a few years later that I truly started to understand what social media could be used for: memes, seeing what's up with friends, and skipping time.

Things started out fine, just like how things usually go. I actually enjoyed social media — it gave me a little pocket of time just to myself, laughing at whatever memes came up or looking at what's new with my friends. It felt a little thrilling that you somewhat got closer to people by seeing what they post on their social media pages. I mainly used Instagram the most, with Facebook hardly used and Twitter practically not touched.

While I had some fun, it didn't take long, especially as I began my secondary school years, for me to realise that social media had started to take a toll on me.

What could possibly go wrong?

I'll admit, my secondary school experience might not be exactly what most other students from Singapore experience. My school, in particular, had a few privileges that most neighbourhood schools do not have — the requirement of a personal device (though this changed in 2021) for learning, a somewhat different curriculum, and generally more facilities. Many students in the school came from well-off backgrounds — usually the middle-to-high-income groups — and they could afford to have a lot more things than I could.

It isn't to say that I'm not appreciative of the things I have, but seeing how they shone with all they had sometimes made me forget what I have. I buckled under an inferiority complex, often wishing that I had what they had. Social media made the problem worse: it took me quite a while after leaving social media that people usually only put the best moments of their lives up there. Looking through my Instagram feed, I kept wondering why things couldn't be as enjoyable as others' lives.

Granted, the root of the issue of this inferiority complex isn't just caused by social media. It's a multifaceted issue with a lot of complexity around it, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around it while going through it at the same time. Knowing that social media might continue deteriorating my self-esteem, I decided to leave it sometime in Secondary 2.

The fear of missing out

I still wonder if I did the right thing for myself by leaving social media. Not being part of the whole thing allowed me to look at it from another angle — particularly how we're all hooked up to it, almost like an addiction, and the privacy implications of social media today. On the other hand, I have a significant feeling of missing out since I couldn't really interact with my friends and classmates beyond our time in school.

I realised quickly how much I've depended on social media, both as a time-waster and a connection-establisher. Sure, I know a little about my friends here and there. Still, I couldn't get as up close and personal to them without social media — most would usually share what's happening through a quick Instagram story or two, and I missed out on that.

On the other hand, though, I realise that I've adapted over the years without social media to focus on other things. In particular, I've spent a lot of time coding since 2020 and began reading more books. I like to think that I've gotten to see my school's librarian a lot more than many students. I realised that I couldn't precisely quit 100% of social media since I needed to use a little of it for communication (via WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal) and entertainment (via Reddit). Beyond that, though, nothing much at all.

The catch-22 of social media

Now that I've completed my O-Levels, I have quite a lot of time to myself. I realise that I don't really want to lose touch with the friends I've made here in secondary school; I recalled how I've lost touch with practically all my primary school friends, and I didn't want the same thing to happen again. Another reason I'd like to join social media back again is to grow a name for myself. Many developers have done that through Twitter, and I want to try to make a name for myself by pushing my boundaries.

Therefore, the thought of joining social media again keeps creeping into my mind; should I do it, or is it still detrimental to me? It almost feels like a catch-22 situation: I want to use social media to help grow a name for me in the developer space and allow me to keep in touch with friends, but by using it, my feelings of inferiority are at an all-time high using it, and I want to quit.

This dilemma is difficult for me to face, and I tried experimenting by creating a Twitter account at the start of the year. It didn't last long, though. I realise that I've kept excessively going back to it when my mind wanders off. Every notification got me on my heels since it indicated a possible follow, retweet, reply, or like. I loved and hated the feeling of anticipation since this was the exact same feeling that eventually led me to tie self-worth to likes. Old habits die hard, I guess.

So, what now?

I don't actually know what to do about the whole social media thing. If I were to join again, I think I'd want to have a careful approach to it. But considering my old habits of constantly checking, I doubt that that might work. I'm a little unnerved by the (lack of) privacy on Meta products (though, it's probably ironic saying it since I heavily depend on WhatsApp), so I'll probably avoid those for now, too.

I hope that I'll have a clearer space of mind soon enough to make a decision. When it comes to social media, I believe that I'll need a few things to prepare myself from crumbling:

  • self-esteem and self-confidence — that way, no matter how others flex their lives, I can still appreciate the things that I have;
  • a sense of control — being able to restrict my usage of social media such that I don't overuse or grow over-dependent on it; and
  • a clear purpose — so that I know what I'm using social media for.

For what it's worth, social media still has a lot of benefits, especially to a teenager like me in the digital age. It allows me to keep in touch with friends, meet new people, share interesting things I find, and many more good things. At the same time, I find it a secret enemy that I hadn't anticipated without self-assurance. Social media truly is a double-edged sword, and until I weigh the pros and cons properly, I think it's for the better of me to stray away from it a little longer.