Current Yale students — born in the mid-to-late 1990s — face a unique predicament. We are sandwiched between a peer group that grew up using flip phones with antennas and one currently in their tween and early teen years, practically enslaved by social media. We played with Game Boys and Tamagotchis as kids, we got our first cell phones in middle school (the kind with the texting keyboards you had to slide out), and most of us knew someone who had a first-generation iPhone. Needless to say, we grew up with technology — but not the same kind of technology that surrounds us today. Social media as we know it did not exist in the early 2000s. There was Myspace and Facebook, of course — I remember spending months begging my parents for a Facebook account in seventh grade — but today’s notion of a social media image would have been practically inconceivable ten years ago. People used Myspace to list their top friends and Facebook to express their likes and dislikes. When they posted photos of themselves, they were often taken on Photo Booth and comically over-edited. I cringe looking through my Facebook posts from seven years ago, and not just because I was still going through puberty. The photos 12-year-olds post on Instagram these days are just so drastically different.
Our memories of a simpler time (but not as simple as the one our older siblings remember) force us to confront a paradox of sorts. We possess the ability to critically examine and question the pop culture that surrounds us, yet we are perpetually tethered to it. Our recollection of a childhood without Snapchat or Instagram allows us to disconnect from technology, at least on an intellectual level, and understand the pitfalls of the social media age. Still, the majority of us spend several hours each week scrolling through our Instagram feeds. We may not have grown up with it, but we certainly have adjusted.
The effects of growing up surrounded by social media are evident in current middle and high schoolers. Most of the time when I see kids that age sitting together at a restaurant, a few — or sometimes, all of them — are staring at their screens and ignoring the friends sitting next to them. In an effort to avoid being hypocritical, I will admit that this scene is not uncommon amongst people my age either. Yale students are not immune to the addiction to social media that plagues younger students. Our interactions with one another, particularly towards the beginning of our first year, heavily depend on following one another on Instagram and adding each other on Snapchat. Social media seems to solidify these friendships, yet months later, it becomes evident how superficial these initial interactions were. Our generation is not perfect, but we understand the intrinsic value of actual conversation. Unfortunately, I don’t know that most of the kids born a few years after us do.
A less-substantial yet still-significant aspect of childhood that social media has eliminated is the awkward phase that everyone used to go through around age 12. The awkward phase is characterized by weird hairstyles, even weirder outfit choices and braces. The phase was universal and, of course, displayed on AIM or whatever other early form of social media we chose. Our awkward phases were embarrassing beyond belief, yet there was a certain comfort in knowing that every single one of our peers looked just as cringe-worthy when they were 12. However, the awkward phase has ceased to exist thanks to social media. Middle schoolers now can look to Instagram-famous twenty-year-oldS who wear designer clothes and travel the world for ideas on how they should present themselves to the world. Our awkward phases were the result of an isolation from the hyperconsciousness of self-image that only adults used to possess.
A question emerges for those of us born in the 90s: Can we really reconcile the hours we spend on Instagram or Snapchat with our innate objections to these actions? I don’t think we can. And while we need not renounce technology altogether, perhaps it would be beneficial for each of us to regularly examine the effects of our relationships to social media. Social media is often more pervasive than we realize. In addition to friendships, romantic relationships are shaped by the rise of social media apps like Tinder which normalizes the intervention of technology in our interactions. These apps allow us to lower the probability that our conversations are awkward and to minimize our chance of rejection, yet they also take away from the authenticity of our reactions. In order for our emotion to truly be genuine, we must remove ourselves from the technological filters we rely on so frequently.
Pascale Bradley is a first year in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .