The emergence of the internet has paved new ways for people to communicate. As a millennial, I spent half of my early teens in chat rooms and on messaging platforms such as the late MSN. I chatted both with strangers and my in-real-life friends. Growing up with this technology, I was not fazed by it one bit. I completely embraced this lifestyle. I would come home from school, excited, to talk to my school friends, but online. There was something mystical about talking to people I know, behind a screen far away from them. And it provided to the opportunity to easily talk to people I was intimidated by — such as my crushes. After MSN became unpopular, I moved to online forums, perusing through messaging boards that discussed my niche interests. And in turn, these niche interests I would not have found without the internet. Quickly, the internet started to heavily influence the formation of my identity.
I found hobbies and interests I would have never known. They started to define me. Social media revved up my impression management skills. In everyday life we also use impression management, we try to show a side of ourselves that lines up with the situation we’re in. This means that when you’re in a job interview, you might try to impress the interviewer by demonstrating your competency. Or when you’re with friends you will behave in ways that will make them positively reinforce you. If you consider your friends to be smart, you might do your best to show your intellectual side in their presence. Social media is riddled with these kinds of impression management strategies. For instance, on Instagram or Facebook there is an incentive to showcase positive life events. This often gives a skewed vision of what individual’s lives are truly like. I would be lying if I said that I have not felt the pressure to participate in this.That is why I have decided to delete all of my social media.
However, I once welcomed such media with open arms. It especially agitated me when people from older cohorts – the non-digital natives – criticized my internet. How dare they speak ill of the greatest technological invention?! While I still might not agree with all negative views regarding social media or the internet, I have grown wary of it. Events such as Cambridge Analytica and studies linking social media to depression have changed my opinion. I once opposed the opinions of scholars such as Sherry Turkle, that too much screen time might be detrimental to our offline communication skills. But I am starting to see where they are coming from.
I have stepped away from my alliance to technological determinism, the idea that society is entirely molded by the technology it produces. Yes, since technology is such an integral part of our everyday life that it definitely influences many of our ideas and values, but it isn’t the sole maker. There a myriad of other factors at play. I no longer embrace the internet as the solution to every problem or as the form of technology that can do no wrong. Though, just as a clarification, I do not consider the internet as a stand alone creature that we are submitted to. I look at the environment that it provides to us humans, that are slightly different from ‘real life’ situations. For instance, the anonymity of certain online spaces provide a place for people to voice their insulting opinions.
But, no, I do not belong in camp “internet bad”. I would like to say that my opinion of this technology has become more nuanced over time. Maybe my adherence to the idea that the internet is invincible had to do with my ache for rebellion in my teens. I am not sure. But I have retracted that idea. I don’t think we should completely disregard the internet either. Personally, it has helped me tremendously. It is a source of communication, entertainment, information, and support. But it isn’t everything.