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A few months ago, I met with a group of friends for the first time since before the pandemic. Embracing people and seeing them face-to-face was a refreshing shift from the hyper-online, digital world we had been living in for over a year. My friend’s new girlfriend, Natasha, was a friendly, down-to-earth girl with the type of natural beauty that makes it hard to look away. Before I left the hang-out, I asked her for her Instagram handle so we could keep in touch. 

         “I don’t have an Instagram,” she said with a smirk. “Actually, I don’t have social media at all.”

I could hardly believe that a twenty-something woman like myself did not have a presence on social media. How is that even possible?, I thought to myself. 

As it weighed on me, I came to the frightening realization of how many hours of my day are spent on social media. It is as much a part of my life as my left arm. That thought made me shiver.

Social media, especially platforms full of inauthenticity aided by photoshop such as Instagram, creates so much confusion in our world’s reality. Having access to social media heightens our sense of connection, but it diminishes our sense of trust. We can digitally stay “connected” with our friends and family, but there is something missing. And I think the pandemic proved that.

Coming of age in a world consumed with digital media was equally beneficial as it was dangerous. Social media is useful for spreading information and keeping in touch with people, but there is a shield that is placed between the screen and real human connection. The digital world can impede our sense of authenticity, because online, we can be whoever we want to be. This facade of a persona can damage people’s self-worth. When I was a middle school girl, the photos of “perfect” girls circulating Tumblr and Pinterest made me despise my outer appearance. Damaging thoughts ran through my head at night: If I looked like her, I would be happier. I can’t even imagine how young girls are affected nowadays. 

As the night with friends progressed, something in the back of my mind kept telling me to take a group photo or video that I can post on Snapchat to prove to my followers that I am having fun. But Natasha inspired me. She confirmed that it’s not impossible to be absent from social media; it’s actually quite simple.

I had one of the best nights of my life, overflowing with real laughter, friendship, and love. Posting about it online doesn’t make any of that better. This was genuine human connection— no screen intercepted that.

There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to share moments online or putting information out into the world. In fact, digital media has immense benefits. But things get out of control when the digital world becomes more addicting than entertaining. I have been trying to find that balance lately, and I am so glad that I met Natasha to inspire me to do so.

Sophie is a senior at The University of Tampa. She is a writing major with minors in sustainability, english, and sociology. When she's not on a camping trip or swimming at the beach, she enjoys doing yoga, eating vegan food, and hiking with her dog. You can find her on instagram @sophie.cavanaugh.
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