Over a year ago I was scrolling through Instagram per my usual daily routine and came across a video of legendary actor Denzel Washington. While on the red carpet he was questioned about being the victim of a “fake news” story. What started out as a regular interview ended with words of wisdom – even now it sticks with me immensely. In response to a news story about him that was obviously untrue, Washington answered, “if you don’t read the newspaper you’re uninformed, if you do read it you’re misinformed.” He continued with “what is the long-term effect of too much information?” “One of the effects is the need to be first, not even to be true anymore…We live in a society now of first, get it out there, we need to be first, we don’t care who it hurts, who we destroy, or if it’s true, just say it, sell it.” “Anything you practice you’ll get good at, including BS.”
Washington was speaking on the endemic of “fake news” surrounding the 2016 presidential election, but I couldn’t help but connect it to a social issue of our [millennials] time. “What is the long term effect of too much information?,” including the never ending barrage of perfect people, perfect bodies, perfect homes and perfect lives, or at least that’s what the curation of their feeds would make one believe. Let me state for the record as a 25-year-old, college graduate and a journalist I would definitely consider myself media literate holding a basic level of understanding — that people show you what they want you to see and more importantly — people lie. “Anything you practice you’ll get good at, including BS.”
It was the mid-2000s when social media began to pop. I remember watching different news specials at night with my family about all of the scary things that were happening due to this online monster named ‘MySpace.’ Thinking back I became slightly more conscious of how I looked, wanting to always be picture ready, but I didn’t think of it as anything unusual at the time. Eventually as I got older MySpace’s popularity died and Facebook was the new thing. Poet Toni Morrison once said, “along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another —physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.” Instagram started as a photo sharing app for iPhone users only, functioning like Twitter, but instead of tweets, pictures. Over the past eight years, Instagram has evolved into a commercialized, non-stop advertisement of beauty, bodies, money and excess. It revolutionized how companies do business, engage consumers and how individuals approach sharing their identity. In recent years the app has received grave criticism for what many believe is the role they play in low self-esteem and negative body image particularly among youth. Dr. Phillippa Diedrichs, senior research fellow at the University of West of England’s Centre for Appearance Research, said research backs up the link between social media and body image concerns. “The more time spent on Facebook, the more likely people are to self-objectify themselves,” she said.
“What is the long-term effect of too much information?”
I have two Instagram accounts — on my anonymous account I follow mostly celebrities, or celebrity adjacent people, people that I admire who are uber successful and other accounts that interest me. On my @Sarafinasaid account, I follow people I actually know, which is very different. The vibe is just…maybe the vibe is broke? On my anon account I’ve crafted my own alternate reality that’s more interesting and aspirational. I can admit that I don’t really care to see what people I know in real life are doing. It’s obvious that I too have been affected by this veil of perfection, so much so that I’d rather not look at people who aren’t pretty, rich and fabulous? Wow. But while we don’t know what the long term effects of social media and oversharing are yet, let me just say I don’t believe it’s all bad. I follow tons of food, fitness and trainer accounts. It’s a great reminder of what my goals are. I also follow girls with amazing natural hair which encourages me to take care of my own and be experimental with my look. I believe the key is to engage in social media in a healthy way that turns comparison and envy to motivation. The reality is social media isn’t going anywhere and neither are our human traits that causes us to be down on ourselves at times, depressed, envious and sometimes sad. Is our mental health when using social media our responsibility? Is there a way not to use social media and still know what’s happening beyond us?