Monday, 7 September 2015

Social media isn't ruining my life

We live in an age which moves so fast that by the time we have managed to process the new, it isn't new any more. Understandably, this dismays a lot of people. Even the most tech-savvy and up-to-date of us can have their moments of doubt, and it can be beneficial to stop and think about what the implications of each new change.

But I have to say, I am getting pretty bored with seeing the same concerns over social media. Especially when they're about the pressure to have a perfect life which Instagram and Pinterest supposedly exert onto us.

The latest of these is a piece in the New York Times, which suggested that pictures of happy groups of female friends - emblematised, of course, by Taylor Swift's 'girl squad' - are replacing those of happy couples. The writer, Emily Witt, suggests that these images are increasing our insecurity about our lives: "The portraits seem to be asking a lot of impolite questions: Do you have as many friends as we do? How did you celebrate your birthday?"

Firstly, I simply do not agree that a proliferation of images of female friendship is a bad thing, even if they are all clothed in Chanel or hanging out at a champagne bar. Promoting friendship is surely a good thing, because having a supportive network of friends is such an important part of life. I do not agree that posting pictures with your friends on social media is "friendship as performed" - it can be an expression of happiness in the moment. Or, as I've experienced a lot in this transitional phase of my life from school to university to life, it can be a way of preserving a memory. Perhaps most importantly, when women are so often portrayed in the media as competing with each other for the attention of men, is it not a positive step to see more women celebrating their friendships?

Secondly, have we not yet learnt that nobody's life is perfect? We need to accept that when people post something on social media, they are editing their lives for public consumption. We all have a right to do that: choosing what to keep private and what to show. Social media posts do not have this malicious intent that many cultural commentators seem to be reading into them. Just because you see a picture of two friends having a night out, there's no need for you to feel bad about spending an evening alone. 

For some reason we have arrived at this assumption that social media is inherently bad for us. We are, apparently, addicted to gazing at beautiful images and judging ourselves harshly in comparison. I don't doubt that this happens to everyone at some point; we've all had our low moments of feeling left out or unfulfilled. But this attitude totally neglects the positive ways in which social media keeps us connected: staying in touch with friends all over the world, following the life of someone whom we admire, and even meeting new people.

As for beautiful images, our interaction with them need not be destructive, but rather aspirational. Recently I read a money-saving tip on The Financial Diet which advised supplanting your impulsive shopping habits with Pinterest. Perhaps that sounds silly to some, but I find it really works. Whatsmore, when I find I really want to purchase something, gathering inspiration from the blogosphere is incredibly helpful, allowing me to get a sense of the features I need in a piece of clothing, and what I want it to look like. Never mind if I'm Pinning a piece of Elie Saab couture that I'll never be able to afford, the fact I'm attracted to it helps me sift through my options with a keener sense of what I'm looking for.

In fact, the majority of young women also see the benefit in using social media for this sort of purpose. Teen Vogue's social media survey showed that girls use various outlets to research their purchases by watching tutorials and reviews on Youtube, finding more images on Pinterest, and looking for discounts on Facebook. To me this seems to counteract the stereotype of the young woman obsessed with Instagram, desperately trying to get hold of the latest 'it' buy. We might see things on Instagram at first, but social media allows us to research our purchases and make an informed decision.

Whether it's a group of celebrity friends or a must-have handbag, our lives are filled with perfect images. That shouldn't make our lives any less wonderful. These apps and websites were made to be enjoyed, not to hold us back.

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