Dubai Diaries: Changing the narrative around youth and social media

Dubai - In throwing hands about the toxicity of social media, we’ve forgotten to have a more nuanced conversation about it.


By Gopika Nair

Published: Sat 23 Oct 2021, 1:51 PM

I start my mornings with a cup of tea and a 20-minute YouTube video about a day in some influencer’s life. Somewhere in between celery juice and meditation, there’s a sprinkling of gratitude journalling, Marie Kondo-inspired clutter cleanses and wholesome Buddha bowls.

The videos are nowhere close to a depiction of my life, but I enjoy consuming the content under the pretense that I might one day do those things. One day, I’ll learn how to whisk my own matcha latte — with almond milk because I’ll finally realise I should be eating for the environment. One day, I’ll journal my anxieties, bake my frustrations into a loaf of banana bread and unwind with a bergamot candle that I, obviously, made myself. One day, I’ll become the best, most unattainable version of myself.

That one day might never come. Last week’s social media blackout sparked many conversations about Facebook, Instagram and other platforms’ effects on youth. Numerous studies and articles already exist, and many more have materialised with renewed fervour. But maybe in throwing hands about the toxicity of social media, we’ve forgotten to have a more nuanced conversation about it, especially as it relates to young people.

Privacy and security concerns aside, it’s true that social media hasn’t made things easy. There was a time when Facetuned photos were ubiquitous, making us strive for unrealistic levels of perfection and thinness. Even now, we open the apps to see photos of the friend who went on a soul-searching trip to Thailand, the one who got married and the one who got into Harvard, only to inevitably measure our failures against their successes.

But didn’t insecurities exist even before these apps emerged? Social media was just a worm that baited our shortcomings. In Rainesford Stauffer’s book An Ordinary Age, she interviews young adults who offer layered perspectives about social media. The surprising revelation is that they don’t blame social media for their mental health problems or self-esteem issues.

In fact, nearly all of them said they had found themselves represented within social media and expressed a desire to present their most authentic selves on these platforms, debunking the idea that nothing on social media is real.

They even knew when to take a step back when the media they consumed felt damaging. Influencers are a major part of that conversation. We want to be done with them, yet we can’t escape them. On one end of the spectrum, you have the ones who flaunt their designer bags and mansions, the ones you absolutely cannot relate to but still watch.

But on the other hand, you have creators with some 300,000 followers, who produce content with the disclaimer that they’re only showing a minuscule portion of their lives. These you consume simply because the person seems relatable. Many of us emerged from the 6-hour digital blackout having rediscovered our hatred for social media. Minutes later, we were back online.

So, how can young people embrace a digital detox when our lives have long been intertwined with apps? Perhaps the solution is to discover our sense of worth within and without social media. And when the going gets tough, we can only hope that the tech gods will give us another respite.

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