Before we get into my column this week I wanted to clarify something that was, as I’m told, murky at best in my first column, “Political Correctness Silences Vital Discourse,” which was published Jan. 26. In my piece, I recounted a time when I was called transphobic for my initial difficulty with wrapping my head around they/them/their pronouns. I finished that anecdote with this sentence: “Hey Griffin, pronouns concern questions of identity and not recognizing that is incredibly insensitive of you.” I’d, like to clarify that this was not what was said to me by my friend at the time. That line was present day me writing about what I wish was said to me in the past with my broader Kenyon view as opposed to the narrow one I arrived with. I respect the gender identity of all, but apparently that wasn’t clear in my column. I’m sorry for the confusion and any pain that caused. But I thought it would be better to say this in the Collegian as opposed to Facebook because social media is extremely volatile and is a prime contributor to our generation’s constant feelings of inadequacy.
The volatility of social media first materialized for me when someone in my high school posted in our class Facebook group that their friend told her that she would commit suicide if she didn’t get a certain amount of likes on her status. She got the required amount and at least lived to the next day, but I still can’t figure out why someone would care so much about how many people clicked a button. Is that what our self-worth has come to? Likes on a page, a grade of how many people value what we think?
What happens with social media is that everyone creates this “virtual self.” A surface level version of yourself that encompasses the “best” parts of you: what cool things you’re doing, what funny thoughts you have, pictures of you when you look your best. The problem with that is you’re not really like that. Human beings comprise of far more than what we portray on social media. Our faults are what make us unique and worth spending time with, not the number of likes on our profile pictures.
When we look at other people’s social media presence we think we see a perfect human. I’ve had friends admit to me that they would sit in class and compare themselves to other people and think: “Why can’t I be as pretty as her? Why can’t I be as cool as him?” This line of thinking sounds ridiculous, but it’s endemic to our generation. Instead of listening to the discussion or lecture that we are paying money for we look elsewhere to see if the grass is greener in other people’s lives. That same beautiful person you see is looking somewhere else for approval because we are never satisfied with what we have. Because we can’t see the faults in all the people we are connected with we forget that everyone is just as flawed as we are. That picture doesn’t reveal the real story that that girl has her own insecurities, or that she pulls her hair out piece-by-piece when she’s stuck on a problem set. No one is perfect, but social media can make everyone appear flawless and make you feel like an unwanted outcast for being human.
We’ve never been more connected as humans. I can send a message to my old camp counselor while he’s teaching in Japan. I’m able to video chat with my brother in San Antonio, and I send photos to my friends at Exeter with the click of a button. Yet with all this communication something has been lost. Per the Tech Times “Never Too Young: Average Age Of Kid For Getting First Phone Is Now Only 10.3 Years Old”, the average kid gets a smartphone today at 10 years old. As a kid, I grew up playing Mario Kart with my friends, but kids today are shooting anonymous strangers online, by themselves. We used to use video games to bond with our friends who were next to us, not yell at random tags on a screen. We are constantly connected to everyone, but do we know how to talk to anyone face-to-face anymore?
I don’t mean to sound like a man out of time who misses the good old days of face-to-face communication. I’m simply alarmed that our virtual interactions are starting to matter more than our physical ones. What’s scarier is how our happiness can now be boiled down to how many likes our Instagram gets or how many times our politically-charged status is shared. We’re all just people, and people are innately flawed. I’ve spent my whole life being ashamed that I’m weird and chasing the insane notion of being normal. In the last three months I’ve finally learned that being normal is overrated. Our perfect virtual people are boring, let’s enjoy and accept being flawed; Kenyon’s supposed to be quirky after all.
Griffin Burrough ’18 is an economics major from Summit, NJ. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.