I was first introduced to social media, or more specifically Instagram, by one of my friends in the fourth grade. It’s crazy to think how long ago I entered the digital world, and how my Instagram profile has since evolved. My username, “@ellanator9,” has remained the same for my account’s entire existence, but the rest of my profile has drastically changed from the type of posts I share, to how I communicate using the app and my feelings surrounding social media use.
I believe social media should be an outlet where individuals can freely express themselves, and for me I feel like I’ve arrived at a comfortable position to do so. I recall becoming more consciously involved with social media around eighth grade, realizing that people might perceive me based on what they view on my profile.
I think what prompted this initial realization was my family’s move to Japan, where I was enrolled in a completely new school with brand new classmates. I was forced to make new friends, and started to care much more about social media for the social capital it could potentially offer through allowing me to form relationships with others online and gain status by posting.
As a result, I underwent a phase of dwelling far too deeply on what I should post. Sometimes I spent an absurd amount of time deciding which photos would appear the most visually and aesthetically pleasing on my profile. I was aware that this wasn’t a healthy thing for me to worry about and recognized that overthinking the look of my Instagram profile was a ridiculous use of my time.
Looking back, I don’t blame myself because I was only doing my best at the time, falling in line with what everyone else around me was doing — posting. Navigating through Instagram where the algorithm always supplies new content was and still is extremely stimulating and addicting. I fell into the trap of worrying if my content was worthy enough compared to what everyone else was posting. I wasn’t posting for myself, but for my peers — a mindset I have gladly moved past since.
This change in mindset occurred during my senior year of high school, a transgressive period for my personal growth. I remained online for classes allowing me to focus heavily on myself, distanced from any pressures to perform a role that wasn’t true to myself. I underwent a period of self actualization, getting to understand the type of person I wanted to be rather than what others expected from me. I was prompted to start posting freely and expressively on Instagram. I wanted to document new outfits I was putting together and reach out to new people I would meet in college.
I found my college roommate on social media and connected with people I’ve maintained close friendships with well into my second year. I’m thankful for the opportunities that social media has provided me with to extend myself further into communities I am now a part of.
I find it interesting to consider the role that social media now plays for me in a college setting. A lot of the negative effects I have observed from my social media use over the years seem to have occurred while in middle and high school where the social stakes seem higher. Here at the University, I don’t worry about seeing the same people all of the time as I did in high school. I’m free to build my own schedule and surround myself with friends who I care about and who care about me. I don’t seek out social gratification online, having built up confidence in myself to no longer crave such artificial validation.
At this point, I feel that I use social media for myself. I don’t care what other people think of the images I post, and view posting as putting myself out there and documenting memories to look back on. I feel that the world is a lot more tangible now actually being in college. Interactions with friends are real, and not mediated through online platforms and the limited environment of high school. I don’t feel the need to post everything. What I experience exists in the moment and normally that is for the best.
I no longer fixate on having pictures to post after some experience. Of course I still find value in taking photos at different moments, but it comes more naturally to me now. If something speaks to me as being very beautiful or strikes my interest in a peculiar way, I take a photo. I record concert videos of my favorite songs like everyone else and pose for the camera with friends, but this is no longer a necessity which alters and dictates experiences for me.
All of this leads me to say that in my experience, using apps like Instagram in a non-social comparative way for the self has been the most beneficial. I have tried to ensure a more positive experience on social media for myself by simply not following people who I would rather not see, and limiting my consumption to things that inspire and challenge my thinking. I appreciate viewpoints offered by the diverse users of social media, and think apps like Instagram can become more inclusive and caring environments when people support rather than compete with one another.
Ella Powell is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.