Social media’s role in the time of social distance

Alaina Perdon

Elm Staff Writer

My relationship with social media has always been convoluted: as pleasant as it is to distract myself with friends’ smiling selfies and assorted puppy videos, I remain diligent to avoid being sucked into a social media black hole.

But, in this completely new stage in all of our lives, I am thankful for the apps that can keep us all connected, even in the silliest of ways.

Since we have begun social distancing physically, there has been a positive change on my Instagram feed. On a platform that can often seem like little more than a braggart’s battleground pitting staged vacation photos against last Friday night’s party pics, I now find heartfelt memories, humorous commiseration, and attempts at inspiration in the face of fear.

Creators across all platforms are sharing their craft in innovative ways, be they musicians remotely hosting collaborative concerts or esteemed academics streaming free lectures. Writers and artists release “challenges” for their followers, inspiring and showcasing creativity.

The element of toxic comparison seemingly vanished. In its place fell a reminder that we are all living the same uncertain reality.

We can see the faces of those we miss, although a picture on a screen does not compare to an in-person meeting. We can passively keep up with those we grew used to running into every day without having to dedicate the emotional energy to a multiple-hour phone call. We can still be together even when we must be apart. This assuages the crippling loneliness that comes with forced isolation.

“People are eager to tell their stories and document their daily lives in the face of this deadly disease,” Michael Sokolov, opinion writer for The Drum, said.

Snaps of people’s breakfasts or Facebook ramblings from a social butterfly forced to work from home may seem silly. But is it not comforting to gain a little insight into your friends’ lives, and to be reminded that other humans are still out there?

“Chinese citizens, particularly those who live in the North, avoid going outside and use social media to curtail the risk of being infected,” Sokolov said. “They can keep in touch with their friends, get the latest news, and order food thanks to social media.”

That said, the constant barrage of information from the outside world can become overwhelming. Reading death tolls, hearing others voice their anxieties, and even seeing just a few too many coronavirus memes can begin to grate away at the mental wellbeing many of us are trying to better in these tough times.

As always, it is important to maintain control of our social media consumption. Many celebrities are declaring their platforms a safe space, delivering purely uplifting or entertaining content and avoiding any mention of the pandemic. It is important to know and respect our own limits when it comes to information intake.

Humans have evolved to be social creatures. In a time when many of us are fearful, feeling unable to seek comfort in one another is particularly challenging. But we are fortunate to live in an age of digitized interaction, where friendly faces are but a click away.

Social media is still not flawless. It is wise to be mindful of the detriments hours of scrolling can bring to your mental state — not to mention, productivity. I, however, am grateful to have a means of feeling close in a time of social distance.

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