Social media and the internet can often be the best friend of somebody who’s left their home country.
Not only does it make it a thousand times easier to stay in contact with friends and family at home, but posting about the exciting things you’re doing can be a great way to chronicle your time in a new place for yourself and for everybody you know, saving yourself the hassle of writing essay-style emails and letters.
I ensure to take photos and Snapchats at every place and every event I go to, and, therefore, I find myself planning what will have to go on Instagram so everybody can know about the latest new adventure I’m having.
The more I’ve done this the more I’ve begun to question: Am I living my life in New York through an Instagram filter? Has social media become the new-aged version of rose-tinted glasses?
Earlier this week, 19-year-old Australian Instagram “star” Essena O’Neill quit the social media platform and deleted her accounts on YouTube, Snapchat and Tumblr proclaiming that “social media is not real life.”
O’Neill had amassed some 600,000 Instagram followers and hundreds of YouTube followers since she began marketing herself on the photo-sharing site at the age of 15. She has posted thousands of images of her seemingly perfect life - the beach, the body, the clothes, the works.
In an angry backlash, she has now completely quit social media claiming that she was tired of lying to people about her life through the photos she posted and was often paid for, revealing that she would take 100s of photos to get the right one to post.
Before she deleted her account she renamed it “social media is not real life” and recaptioned many of her images to tell the real story behind what is shown.
"[Social media] is contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It's a system based on social approval, likes, validation, in views, success in followers. it's perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgement," she wrote.
"Many of us are in so deep we don't realize [social media's] delusional powers and the impact it has on our lives.”
There are certain flaws with the now-viral Instagram-celebrity’s sudden dismantlement of her own online brand. Many fellow social media stars claiming to be friends of O’Neill’s have criticized her condemnation of their lifestyle stating that she is “a hoax” and “a fake” for statements in which she makes out they’re all miserable.
She’s also been condemned for the manner in which she has publically published her 180 degree turnabout by creating a Vimeo account, another online video-sharing platform, for her new “positive” daily posts on the issues she really cares about and the creation of a website Let’s Be Game Changers - two very public online forums based around herself, despite saying, "I can't tell you how free I feel without social media. Never again will I let a number define me.”
O’Neill has also now asked for money and to help keep the website going as she has now given up her previous job of being “Instagram-famous” she can no longer afford her rent.
Despite all this, and the many other issues that arise from any young person documenting so publically the years of their life where they are still learning about the world and what they believe in (for example, at just 24 I can’t bare to look back on anything I said online as little as two years ago but know that the more I cringe, the more I have learnt), the basic principle of O’Neill’s argument is the most important thing we should take from it.
Social media is not (always) real life.
Although the medium itself is not a lie, social media enables us to lie to ourselves and to others about the kind of life we’re leading.
I’ve posted pictures from the top of the Empire State, the Top of the Rock, from Manhattan penthouses, celebrity-filled open bars, sunny carefree days on the beach, parties with friends, the Manhattan skyline from various rooftops, and countless other incredible experiences I’ve had.
These are met with more likes than I’d ever have received in Ireland, being told I look like I’m having a great time and that I’m always doing the best and coolest things.
What I haven’t posted online in the past year are the times when I haven’t been having a good time in New York. Far from it, in fact.
There’s been no Instagram posts of the two times my housemates were arguing so badly that they called the cops to our apartment; no Facebook evidence of one of them attempting to lock us out and refusing to pay bills and rent in an attempt to get the rest of us evicted; no tweets about commuting to work or anything at all that would be exactly the same as I would do in Dublin. Only things that are cool and different make the grade.
There’s also been no mention of the times (few and far between thank goodness) when I felt I’d just rather be at home because not only does social media enable us to lie to others, it allows us to lie to ourselves along the lines of the “faraway hills are greener” adage.
Being able to remain in constant contact with Ireland can sometimes makes it harder to live in the city around you and to break that connection just for a little while because you’re so concerned with what is going on back home. Your friends are all still having fun without you. Your family are still carrying on with their normal lives. Watching all that play out from afar when you may not have the same kind of support system around you can be a very lonely thing.
A few years ago, a young girl spoke anonymously to the Huffington Post about her struggle with bulimia and the bad effects that social media had on her recovery. Whenever she felt lonely, instead of eating something, as she would when she was sick, she would log in to Facebook.
As time went by, she began to feel anxious if she wasn’t able to regularly check the page like this. She spent her days thinking of something she could post that night to show that she was recovering, to prove to everybody that she was ok, and it in turn became a replacement obsession.
For some, living away from Ireland can be like this. The bad days, the times you hate your new home, the ways that you may think Ireland is better are whitewashed over because many of us are constantly filtering our lives to compare them to other people’s own filtered version of their lives.
I would even go so far as to say that it’s turned competitive. Some may try and outdo each other to make sure everybody knows that they are having the very best time not living in Ireland and putting pressure on themselves to maintain this for any extended period of time must be exhausting.
Social media can be good. It can bring people together, make it easier to communicate and organize time with friends, and research has also shown that it helps elderly and disabled people overcome loneliness.
According to a 2013 Pfizer survey of Irish people, however, the vast majority of us think that social media has a detrimental effect on our mental health, especially among younger people, and US research has shown that young people felt lonely after they spoke to somebody online, a feeling that was not as common if they met with them in real life.
I love social media and I would now feel lost without it, but I would argue that we also need to be aware of the negatives - the obsessive behavior and quest for validation - that can all too easily consume the lives of those using such sites.
No more filters. No more rose-tinted glass. We don’t always have to pretend like we’re having a good time.