It’s hard to change the world, but Essena O’Neill’s “war on social media,” as the web has dubbed it now, is an admirable attempt. She has pulled back the curtains and let netizens of the world have a glimpse into all the work that goes into Internet appearances, and called for teenagers to unplug themselves from all-consuming social media. Her website, letsbegamechangers.com, shares inspirational Ted Talks and debunks some of her own old Instagram photos. It’s powerful stuff.
But the thing is, her move to try to free teens from an obsession with online social validation doesn’t do much aside from remind us of something that we already know we should do. And we are so conditioned to consuming social media that once we sink our teeth into this latest hot topic, we’ll tire of it and move on to the next thing. Because that’s just how the Internet works: one day some video will go viral, and then the next, a new meme will pop up and the old one will be forgotten.
We’re Generation Z. We’re the digital natives, the tech junkies, the selfie-takers—or whatever else the marketing industry has branded us. Some of us remember the days of DSL modems and tape cassettes, and others were born into the age of touch screens and LTE. But the one thing that we all have in common is that we all consume, consume, consume. We are all connected to each other through our screens, and we are almost constantly actively on those connections, as much as we try to steer clear of them.
Social media is ubiquitous, and so very addicting, when entertainment and social validation are just a few taps away. And because it’s through a screen, we can build new personalities on social networking sites, as O’Neill said. We can put on new personas, pretend to be living the dream life—and, as she said, it’s stupid.
But we all know this, the same way that smokers know that they’re blackening the insides of their lungs with tar. We know that people aren’t always who they pretend to be online. We know that we need to get away from the world of Photoshopped perfection and affectations and everything else. But social media and technology are so deeply entwined in the fabric of our everyday lives that there’s not much to be done about it now.
But still. Thank you, Essena O’Neill, for trying.