Self-Centered Worlds: exploring social media
According to psychological and brain sciences professor Todd Heatherton, the sense of self is what keeps us from confusing ourselves with other people. It protects us from forgetting who we are and the essential essences that makes each one of us human.
However, this notion is self-created and not always based on reality. We tend to see ourselves as immune to bad things that could potentially happen to us or those that we love. We are full of biases that act as lenses through which the self interprets the world around us.
“You exist over time and across circumstances, so there is this feeling, this feeling of self that is being produced by the brain,” Heatherton said.
We pay attention, in detail, to our experiences. Then we interpret them according to how they make us feel.
“People feel their own experiences,” Heatherton said. “They don’t feel other people’s experiences, and they fail to notice what they miss. What I mean is that if you are not paying attention to something, you don’t notice it. But you also don’t know you missed it, and that’s the danger of people who text and drive. It feels fine to them because they think, ‘I didn’t miss anything.’”
Heatherton also discussed social media as a factor in our sense of self. If we are constantly being “evaluated” by others on social media platforms, how does it affect our self concepts?
“Belonging to a group has been of prime importance, so whenever we feel our connection to a group being threatened, people are very defensive about that and things like Facebook exploit these ideas,” Heatherton said.
Alexandra Eldredge ’19 runs a popular Instagram account with over 13,000 followers for body positivity. She says that when we are engaged in social media, we’re always aware of what others post and thus subconsciously compare ourselves to others in the process of managing our own posts and profiles.
“We get kind of a thrill from lights and filters and all of these superficial forms of interactions, and they make us feel good about ourselves very temporarily,” Eldredge said. “But in the long run, I don’t think that social media is good for self-esteem.”
Danielle Glinka ’17 expressed a similar idea.
“Seeing other people looking good and happy demotes your sense of self because you think, ‘What if I am not feeling the same way as these other people? I’m not living the same happy life as they are,’” she said.
Glinka commented that we often use the number of likes we get on posts as an ego-booster. Although, as Eldredge said, people’s lives or personalities are not necessarily the same as the personas they have created for themselves online.
According to Heatherton, people who use social media the most are sometimes the least happy.
Glinka believed that this statement differs between individuals and their personal engagements with social media. She said that some people really don’t care for it, while others live for it. What we see online is often not an accurate representation of reality.
“I think that we have become hyperaware of people’s feelings and how they are portraying themselves, because we see them posting photos smiling, looking happy, doing all of these activities and with filters,” Glinka said. “It makes you reflect on your life and think, ‘Why don’t I have moments like these all of the time?’ and it kind of takes away your sense of reality.”
Eldredge explained that social media can lead to decreased satisfaction overall because the images that we post on social media are often filtered images of ourselves. It is easy to become obsessed with certain angles and the way they make us look.
“People are very concerned with taking pictures, rather than focusing on the fun in everyday life,” Eldredge said.
She also pointed out how we often think that other people’s lives are more glamorous than ours because of the things we see on social media. We are essentially comparing our own ordinary moments to others’ that have been filtered and modified for a certain audience.
Maxwell Parker ’17 said that when we post online we are second guessing ourselves, rather than allowing events to unfold organically.
“Social media makes people greatly overthink their sense of self because their image can be perfected for the people around them, behind closed doors,” he said.
The real problem is not in social media itself, but in the way that it’s designed to keep us connected as much as possible, as well as the way it controls us.
“I think that self-obsession is getting worse and worse with Instagram stories and these different modes of communicating constantly with people, so there is pressure at every moment of every day to prove to others that you are actually having fun and that you are engaged in perky activities,” Eldredge said.
Glinka, on the other hand, said that as she has gotten older, she has become more relaxed about what she posts. Instead, she is worried about social media’s future effects on people’s self concepts in general.
“I think that the future is a little scary with regards to how much control [social media] has over our egos or senses of self,” Glinka said.