Scrolling through social media in 2020 has been its own fever dream: we began with memes of the Netflix documentary, “The Tiger King” followed by aesthetic images of whipped coffee. On June 2nd, millions of black squares took over the world’s Instagram feed to support the black community. Disturbing videos of police brutality surfaced online. Debby Ryan became a facial expression. Tik Tok users began documenting nature’s healing process. And now, Twitter conservatives are slamming the lyrics of Cardi B and Megan the Stallion’s new hit song, “WAP.”
As we become increasingly more submerged in this digital realm, quarantined or socially distancing away from our loved ones, the thought eventually creeps up on us: what the hell is going on?
There is plenty to fear. With fall just around the corner, there is worry that coronavirus cases will surge; the virus may become further politicized amongst global powers. There is anxiety over the upcoming presidential election in the USA. Small businesses are closing each day and unemployment rates are skyrocketing. And no matter how much we protest, we wake up to more hashtags demanding justice for a black life.
I’m not sure exactly what to do from here, and neither does anyone else. Yet I have noticed a persistent urgency among us to keep up with a sense of normalcy; better yet, a competition of who is doing 2020 the best.
In March, I was showing off my mother’s baked goods like everyone else. In times of anxiety and quarantine, baking cookies just made sense. Bonus points if a Disney movie was playing in the background.
But I often felt out of the loop. As I watched friends reconnect with their families, I felt further away from mine. Family walks around the neighborhood? Not something my family does. Spa nights with mom? Not something my mom enjoys. Hikes with dad? My father smokes two packs of cigarettes a day.
I had gone from living consistently in Manhattan to suddenly boarded up in a quiet cabin in the woods. I was moody often. I was angry, too, but uncertain who to be angry with. At the end of the day, the virus is a microscopic agent made up of nucleic acids and protein molecules. It felt hardly an accomplishment to grit teeth at that.
The second wave of “survival of the coolest” took place in April: the Internet was adamant about committing to a workout routine. Chloe Ting’s Youtube program became a constant tab open on my laptop, and I poorly jogged in circles around the backyard. I didn’t become any hotter, but I did end up injuring my ankle.
A cycle of competition became the momentum of the summer. Showing off whose boyfriend had the biggest “glow-up”, taking mirror selfies in the yard, sharing our new quarantine abs: who looked the best? Who lost their job, who lost a family member to Covid; who had suffered the most? Who was donating the most, who was protesting the most? Who was socially distancing the best? Who was being safest?
We have fallen into a pattern of shaming those who have not been giving 2020 their all. That’s just not fair. Granted, there are things that could have been done better, if done at all. But how do we reach these “glows ups” if we do not normalize the fear, ugliness, ignorance, and all things beforehand?
During this time of uncertainty and change, we cannot have specific expectations of anyone. Some people will not be their best selves. Other people will thrive and become richer versions of themselves. Both are perfectly normal.
The Internet is far from normal. An endless cycle of memes is a temporary escape. Posting violent videos on our IG story does not change the outcome of the video.
Perhaps we should redirect our energy to something concrete. Let’s call up that friend who hasn’t made any attempt to talk to us since March. Let’s boost each other’s confidence for no reason. Let’s find a new source that reflects our beliefs; or better yet, let’s discover those beliefs. Let’s write Mom a letter if talking to her has been hard, lately. Let’s support black businesses every month of the year. Let’s address racist comments at the dinner table.
Let’s not let social media be the only source material for our growth.