Social media, when used appropriately, is a powerful tool. It serves a utilitarian purpose by enabling the free exchange of ideas and information to a wide audience immediately without censorship. Objectively speaking, it is the ultimate “humanizer”: egalitarian, neutral and democratic in every sense of the word.
The problem is that millennials and the upcoming Generation Z have bastardized social media by using it as a weapon; not with guns and bombs, but rather with the selfie. It’s this passive-aggressive post (we’ve all seen it), on a beautiful beach somewhere swimming with dolphins, with the caption “wish you were here.” Or in other words, “Look how great my life is compared to yours.” We know it’s complete BS, and only a projection of the poster’s own insecurity. We also know that, in many cases, the person is likely in massive debt.
So how did we get here? Let’s take a small step back to examine. Did millennials invent the selfie, or was it Paris Hilton? You could argue the first “selfie” was actually that of Robert Cornelius, in 1839. The early “camera” process was so slow, it took a full minute to capture the light, thus giving Robert plenty of time to uncover the lens, run into the frame and re-cover it. But the word “selfie” is actually credited to an Australian man, Nathan Hope, who in 2002 posted a picture online of his busted lip from partying the night before. It then entered the millennial lexicon.
IT WOULD FORCE OUR GENERATION TO QUESTION OUR DECISIONS AND CREATE SOME PERSPECTIVE ON WHAT IS ACTUALLY WORTH SHARING TO OTHERS.
Since then, a lot has changed. Facebook hadn’t even been created, smartphones didn’t exist (that’s right, Apple was actually a computer company!), there was no Instagram or Snapchat. Also, people still depended mostly on newspapers and traditional media channels for information.
In the early years of social media, things were relatively harmless because people were still getting used to this new platform. Also, phone camera technology was in its infancy, and users were limited to desktop-only (the app store still didn’t exist, so you couldn’t post directly from your phone). Then on Feb. 9, 2009, a new feature was introduced on Facebook which seemed harmless but arguably was the most toxic ever created: a picture of a “thumbs up,” or what we refer to as “likes.”
With that, a new currency was born; not monetary, but popularity. By having the number of likes under each post or image publicly displayed for all to see, it became a popularity contest. How many likes can I get? It became a game against yourself … and you would get upset or lose the game if a post had fewer likes than the previous one.
“Why did my likes go down? Am I not as popular as a week ago?” or “Why didn’t I get more likes on this post? I’m upset. Next time, I will post something more provocative.” I know, this all sounds juvenile and ridiculous. But the human mind, regardless of age, is easily susceptible to emotional manipulation and group-think mentality. Social media became a race to the immature bottom; the more sexy, provocative, ridiculous, silly, goofy or outrageous of a post, the better it would perform. Suddenly you had adults in their 30s acting like teenagers again. Everything they learned, all those tough life experiences, went out the proverbial window. Cameras started pointing inward, rather than capturing the outside world. Selfies took over, and everyone reenrolled in high school.
We (unfortunately) have evidence to back up these claims. In the last decade, many studies have shown a dramatic increase in several areas for young people, including teenage depression, teen suicide, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications. Even worse, more than 250 people had accidental deaths in the last six years thanks to moronic attempts to take eye-catching selfies. It’s tragic, and there needs to be a greater sense of urgency to this issue.
To quote Sylvester Stallone in Creed II, “Big results require big change.” In order to make this effective, we need to create a punishment so severe, so disruptive to your daily life and emotional well-being that people will have to think twice about the consequences. I propose a one-week ban on social media for every selfie you post. I know; this would cause mass hysteria.
This isn’t a new concept, per se. There have been attempts previously by employers to ban social media in the workplace. But I’m actually talking about an algorithm built into social media apps that would detect a selfie post, and force a one-week blackout from further posting.
With a ban in place, would people still risk it? I still bite into a doughnut after a workout sometimes, even though I know I shouldn’t. If anything, it would force our generation to question our decisions and create some perspective on what is actually worth sharing to others. Think of it as the same thing as when your parents put you in “timeout” for punching your sister or using a bad word. Or think of it as the same thing as being “grounded” for staying out past curfew. You knew it was wrong and against the rules, but you did it anyway. Did it make you think twice the next time you did it? Absolutely.
So please, let’s save lives together. I’ll be the first to sign the petition. I just can’t promise I won’t ever break the rules. Who’s with me?
Peter Noble Darrow is the author of Wise Millennial: A Field Guide to Thriving in Modern Life.