The Millennial Bermuda Triangle
The Bermuda Triangle is an unreal patch of sea in the Atlantic Ocean which is infamous for the disappearance of thousands of ships, cargo and airplanes in its vicinity. While there has been a lot of speculation about the reasons for such disappearances, there has been no consensus on one single theory to explain these mysterious occurrences. People have proposed theories from the triangle being an alleged home of aliens to mysterious creatures residing there and engulfing the ships that go that way.
Though I will not decipher the fundamental reasons behind these disappearances in this article, I will outline the aspects of another Bermuda Triangle that almost all of us have sailed through. While some of us could cross it successfully, some lost a part of themselves there.
Man is a social animal. As Darwin said, "Society is something that precedes an individual". Thus, the need to belong is intuitive. This fact that ‘belongingness is a need’ means that it is imperative for humans to maintain and establish some relationships. This theory has been explored by various psychologists including Freud and Maslow. Abraham Maslow placed belongingness in the needs hierarchy between physical needs and the need for self-esteem.
Social media, the technology-enabled communication systems, have drastically altered the way we perceive ourselves as belonging in society. Social media is more about psychology and community rather than technology.
As a student who has just joined university amidst the COVID scenario, there's one thing I could definitely say- social media has had a lot of effect on my perceptions of myself. With the onset of university, there is one more social media that is added to your list apart from the usual networking sites, i.e. LinkedIn. When you start networking here, all of you would come across profiles that are absolute gold. With this facade that social media and networking sites create, they inadvertently point towards a better and happy life that is being led by people behind these profiles. Competition and comparison is inevitable. However, these personas are also attached to a false sense of belonging. People who are passive consumers on these sites suffer from greater levels of social loneliness and feelings of ostracism.
Two studies conducted in this domain brought out the effect of social media consumption on the self esteem of the passive users. In the first one, some Facebook users were divided into two groups. One group was asked to post as usual over the study period, while the other group was instructed not to post during the same period. All participants could log in to Facebook and read posts, but only the first group was allowed to make public posts or respond to other people’s posts. After the lapse of the time of study it was found that the second group reported lower levels of “belonging” and “meaningful existence” than those in the first group.
The results of the second study were even more astonishing and clearly depicted the role that social validation plays in our life. In the second study by the team, participants were asked to make a status update on a Facebook account set up by these researchers. However, the researchers had conditioned the experiment so that only half of them would receive a response on the update. Participants who received no feedback reported lower levels of belonging, self-esteem, meaningful activity than the ones who did receive feedback.
Existentialism is a philosophical concept which deals with answering major life questions such as "who am I?" and underlining the major purpose behind one's existence. All of us face existential crises at some point of time in our life but social media just seems to have accelerated the process. Whenever something happens, we are more concerned about posting it and seeking others' opinions. We are not concerned about our perceptions but want others to hold a mirror for ourselves and ultimately their ideologies become our perceptions. The 'I' in the "Who am I?" is lost forever.
Social media presents a very skewed image of a person's life. Instead of portraying what your actual life is, you portray the kind of life you want others to see. This alone can create emptiness and push someone into an existential crisis. But there's more to it. Even your friends are doing the same thing. They’re posting selfies and bits of their life outlining the fabulous things they’re doing with their lives. And when you compare these things to your own relatively bleak existence, the cumulative effects lead to depression, anxiety and existential dread.
The situation has been further aggravated with the advent of COVID-19. With everybody locked inside their homes, there is no other way to stay connected other than on these sites. The biased and tainted information that we receive through these social media handles have been responsible for worsening our mental health and psychological distress during this pandemic. With each passing day, the information makes you ruminate a little more till you have nothing but emptiness. In a study it was found that US college students are on their smartphones around nine hours a day. Further, coincidentally, anxiety in young people is alarmingly high.
As humans we cannot fight the need to fit in or the need for acceptance. Caught in the rising waves of this bermuda triangle and driven by the endless rat race, a lot of us forget what it's like to be ourselves. The mask of social media productivity and LinkedIn badges take away the little joys. Bruises on our bodies are visible but the bruises on someone's self image are never seen. However, there's one thing that makes you sail through these storms and that's faith. The curated world of social media is not even half of the truth. The struggles and downfalls behind those glittering profiles are silent. So, give yourself a daily reminder to take some time off this world. Prepare yourself to walk endlessly and no matter how cliché it may sound, we all should keep faith that it will all make sense one day.
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