I’ve spent most of my time as an Obie off social media. The platform that I used to use the most — Instagram — I now rarely touch. I’ve flirted with TikTok, Snapchat, and Reddit as well, but each of them were short-lived.
I want to be against using social media in general. I read a lot about surveillance capitalism and the social engineering practiced by social media companies, and I am wary of the political and social echo chambers created in the process of tech companies looking to maximize clicks — if you’re interested in learning more, check out Shoshana Zuboff’s book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. When I’m browsing social media, I find myself becoming numb and bored, always looking to the next post to provide me with a bit of joy, and closing the app disappointedly.
However, I have to acknowledge that the proper use of social media can bring about a lot of good. The Black Lives Matter protests last summer became a global focus through the circulation of frustrations and visions for change through social media, with protests being planned and promoted through social media. Social media has the ability to take the generation and dissemination of media out of the exclusive hands of news and media corporations and place it into the hands of the people. However, this requires being careful about our use of social media and tailoring it to our own needs and circumstances. That is, we need to engage with social media independently and actively. Therefore, I think there are ways of using social media we should prioritize and ones we should avoid, particularly as students.
Through social media, we take in more information than we have at any other time in history. At the same time, that information is simplified and condensed, so we’ve become used to rapidly shifting topics. This both makes it more difficult to focus on work when we need to and makes it easier to default to endless scrolling. The structures of many social media platforms are designed to be addictive and modify our behavior so that we spend more time interacting with the app. Some examples of this include Snapchat’s “streak” feature, which rewards users for building habits around regularly using the app. Instagram has transitioned more and more toward algorithmically pulling users into rabbit holes of scrolling. These tactics have serious negative effects on our study habits. If you’re worried about this, my recommendation is to keep platforms that are scrolling-based, streak-based, and addictive off your phone while you’re trying to do work, or even leaving them deleted until you want to use them, and then re-deleting them after use. Actually deleting the app means you can’t just pick up your phone and start scrolling when you get bored with homework, you have to wait for the app to re-download. This makes it harder to get distracted so quickly. And you can simply re-download the app later.
On the other hand, social media is a good tool to meet people, organize, and keep up with the news. I’ve found messaging and group apps like Discord to be quite useful in this respect, and I like to redownload Instagram occasionally to see pictures that my friends from home have posted. Again, I find it useful to delete and redownload apps regularly, but I also tend to gravitate toward messaging apps and Discord for organizing events and communicating.
Many independent artists and content creators use social media as their primary platforms; however, unless users are incredibly famous, social media platforms themselves don’t really compensate their users. Furthermore, there usually aren’t ways to directly support artists built into platforms like Instagram or TikTok. These platforms are great for disseminating independent media, but they’re not so sustainable for most artists and creators. Transitioning from primarily interacting with artists on these platforms to interacting with them on sites like Patreon can help bridge this gap and realize the potential for social media and the internet to democratize media.
As students — with so little free time as it is — it’s especially important to balance distractions. Taking control of our social media usage can help us do this, and it’s possible to do so for the most part without sacrificing the utility that social media platforms can supply in organizing power. Social media and tech corporations are only interested in profiting off our data and selling targeted ads. If we want to make use of these platforms effectively, we need to be careful in our use of them and tailor them to suit our needs, rather than being used ourselves.