The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday October 24th

Column: Social media has lost connection

DTH Photo Illustration. Social media applications have increased exponentially in the past decade, with new apps including Instagram, Snapchat, Vine (RIP), and, most recently, TikTok.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. Many people don't personally know a lot of the accounts they follow in Instagram and other social media apps.

Social media definitely keeps us connected — but to whom?

While scrolling through my social media timeline recently, I came to a realization. I don’t really know — or honestly care to know — many of the people I follow. And I really doubt they care to know me.

Regardless, these people have become staples in my life due to how frequently I see them on my screen. I saw what colleges they committed to, when they became aunts or uncles, their summer vacations. I know more about these people than I do my neighbors in my apartment building. 

There’s no handbook for growing up online. And being the first generation to grow up with the internet, college-aged students are spearheading the curation of online rules and etiquette. We have negotiated what is and isn’t appropriate to post, what platforms should be used for what content and, of course, have defined some social media taboos. 

One such taboo is the unfollow button.

In some instances, unfollowing is permitted, even expected. However, in many cases, unfollowing someone is just rude.

Keeping in touch with lots of people isn’t a bad thing though, right? Seeing what people are doing must at least in part bring us a sense of connectivity, which is of enormous value, especially during a pandemic. 

However, the depth of that connectivity is undeniably lacking.

Social media is performative by nature. We curate what our online personas look like based off of a number of criteria. And, if someone’s content doesn’t fit what is appropriate, our likes and comments (or lack thereof) let them know.

But how valuable or genuine can a connection be when it’s based on highly curated versions of our lives? 

When we know someone well, the illusion is broken. We are aware just how much of their online presence reflects reality, and how much is curated and poised. 

However, when we don’t really know the people we follow, those illusions cannot be broken. Suddenly, everyone around us is having very real hot girl summers and winter glow-ups. 

Is it even possible to not be performative when we’re surrounded by people we don’t really know? 

Constantly consuming over-polished media gives us a terrible misconception of reality. And as social media, along with our understanding of it, evolves, I can’t help but wonder how long this can go on.

Am I going to be 40 years old and still following people I went to middle school with? Keeping tabs on my almost-roommate from my freshman year? Looking at wedding photos from a friend of a friend I’ve never actually met?

As it stands, social media is a prominent part of our online generation’s self-conceptualization. It serves as a method of solidifying our existence and our relation to one another. 

Perhaps an important part of this is a sense of connection with people we don’t know well. And maybe any amount of connectivity is valuable, regardless of how genuine it is. 

But next time you scroll, consider what you’re really looking at — and what you’re really getting out of it.

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