It may seem counterfeit that the generation that grew up with the inventions of social media and platforms are also the loneliest. Millennials have long been dubbed as the “me, me, me” generation four our supposed narcissism and insistent need for online validation. The increasing concern for the rise in social media addiction has triggered think pieces and studies regarding online media platforms as a cause of anxiety and insecurity. However, although this may be true, it seems reductive to paint social media as our anxiety's main cause.
Image credit: Survival & Serenity
When I first arrived in London I found myself venturing to underground bars, looking to create cool posts for my Instagram and to curate an identity for myself online. I soon realised how disorienting and absurd the concept of social media is; how we, as a society, continue to take part in this charade of artifice. For a generation that grew up with the rise of global capitalism, the myth of self-importance as well as self-mythologising are commonplace. Social media, then, may be less of a cause of collective anxiety than the market’s demand of us to assert a sense of identity for ourselves. With the rise of influencers on social media, content creation has become more accessible, which in turn effectively blurs the lines between creators and audience members. Nowadays, everyone is responsible for their individual brand, as personality and looks have been commodified and likes and followers work as social currency for one’s self worth.
Perhaps it is useful to think of social media as a medium of performance, where everyone has an ‘audience’ to whom they perform their lives, according to a crafted image of themselves. This leads to questions of what lies beneath the surface of picture-perfect images online, as the need to document every aspect of one’s life creates a paradoxical pressure to plan out the creation of memories worth sharing and looking back on with nostalgia in the future. Thus, in a society where one is able to view and judge the activities of others constantly, it almost seems as if to be lonesome or to have nothing going on is the worst sin one can commit. In a way, it is almost ironic how the invention of social media was meant to facilitate connection but has led to increasing feelings of isolation. At its core, the increasing obsession with online platforms and smartphones might stem from an inner fear of being alone. Famously coined FOMO, the “fear of missing out” is nothing but a manifestation of our collective sense of loneliness; what do we want more than to be heard, to feel visible, and most importantly, to be seen?
What remains is the paradox that technology does lead to both a better communication method between people, but also a rise in disconnection within one’s sense of self. To be alone does not mean to be unloved, and one of the starting points in the conversation about the effects of social media might be to acknowledge the source of the sense of loneliness that many of us now share.