Matney: Self-obsessions and self-esteem in the age of social media

Lucas Matney, Columnist

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When the word “tweeting” hit the national lexicon in 2009, cynics were already complaining about how social media was ushering in the complete and utter breakdown of human interaction. Fast forward five years, and the arguments on both sides are still the same. Yet it seems people are tweeting and posting now more than ever without having brought about the major sociological breakdown that was feared.

But as everyone worried that social media’s communicative fallacies would just lead to friends sitting on their couches typing away on their iPhones and ignoring each other, something far worse was taking place. People began profiling themselves.

In the world of social media, a land where self-obsession and low self-esteem can be difficult to differentiate, jealousy is an active influence. Seeing others’ posts that paint a seemingly perfect portrait of an existence devoid of struggles can lead a lot of users to wonder why their lives aren’t matching up. The answers are obvious, but when everybody plays by the same rules and only posts the hashtag-able highlights of their lives, we’re presented with a picture of others that is far from accurate.

In the 21st century, it seems we’ve recreated a world where we’ve all become celebrities and we are all our own agents selling our brand to everybody else. If this sounds incredibly self-absorbed to you, you’re wrong. Because in many cases, sadly, users are thinking about every other set of eyes looking at that picture or status but their own.

Social media arose with different intentions. It was supposed to be the grand connector of people and ideas. It has achieved this to an extent, but in the process, it has caused irreparable damage to the individualism of our society. The phrase, “If you didn’t tweet it, it didn’t happen,” may be the most tragic instance of this. It connects to a larger delusion that success can only be defined in the presence of other viewers, as though one’s own personal experience is secondary to its reality show equivalent.

Despite these truly distressing issues, social media has shown its worth in certain terms, though perhaps in a shallower manner than what has been claimed. Sure, we’re able to sustain relationships regardless of distance, but maybe we’re just maintaining an excess of relationships that mean little to us. We also have much greater access to a diversified bank of information, but those instantaneous updates come at the price of reliability. And we can voice all of our deepest opinions democratically through the web, but “Internet justice” often finds a way of squelching opinions it doesn’t approve of.

Social media is by no means some great evil threatening the moral fiber of our generation, but its effect on how we can grow to see ourselves is disconcerting. There are a ton of benefits to living in the digital age, but every remnant of physical existence doesn’t need an online equivalent for all to see. Maybe by keeping our thoughts stored in our minds rather than the cloud, we can have quicker access to who and what we are.

Lucas Matney is a Medill junior. He can be reached at lucasmatney2016@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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