Attending one of the largest public universities in California, I am constantly surrounded by people. On a day-to-day basis, streams of students flow in and out of Geisel, bodies speckle Warren Mall, and groups meander along Library Walk. The dining halls are highly populated, and it is nearly impossible to enter and exit Price Center without seeing someone familiar. Yet, even in a sea of 24,000, I find myself feeling increasingly alone.
Coming from a small town, with a single school system, I graduated my senior year of high school with the same people who I played four-square with on the kindergarten playground. No matter where I was, or where I went, I recognized the names and faces around me and was rarely alone.
Desiring an escape from the mundane day-to-day familiarity of a small town, I sought a large campus, one where I could lose my way while discovering new places and people. I knew that attending a big public UC would be relatively isolating– most of my classes comprise of 100-plus students, and it is a 25 minute walk from my dorm to my teammate’s apartment across campus, but I had faith in my social skills.
Once at UCSD, I made a valiant social effort. I went out with my swim team, attended weekly campus events, and even joined a sorority. By glancing at my social media, one might have assumed that I was having an amazing social experience. But, inevitably, I found myself eating meals alone, walking to and from class alone, and sitting in the library or campus coffee shop alone. It did not help that my high school friends, at universities across the country, constantly displayed their entourage of new college besties on Snapchat and Instagram.
In an attempt to mask my loneliness, I amplified my social media presence. I felt both a pressure to prove my social success to the world, especially to my friends, and a need for validation and comfort from likes and comments. I considered Instagram and Snapchat a remedial screen to hide behind.
However, constructing a Facebook facade did little to help my feelings of isolation. In fact, it ultimately dramatized them. The more time I scrolled through social media, the more exposed I became to the posts and snaps of my friends, at other schools, who ALWAYS seemed to be having a better college experience than me.
Social media can be dangerous. The ubiquitousness of virtual feeds has ushered in epidemics of cyber bullying, fake news, #activism, and further, has caused a general depreciation of human contact. However, I find the most detrimental aspect of social media to be that it allows users to paint a picture of their “perfect” lives in a way that promotes unrealistic and unauthentic standards. Instagram, to me, illustrates people’s lives through a rose-tinted phone screen. It is a deceiving highlight reel; all the best, usually staged, life moments are posted together in what seems to be a flawless timeline.
Three years ago, a tragic event occurred at the University of Pennsylvania, when freshman track star, Madison Holleran, took her life. The most unsettling aspect to this case is the obliviousness of Holleran’s friends and family to the severity of her mental state, as they based their judgment off of her social media posts. A Daily Mail article quoted Holleran’s high school best friend as stating, “Everyone posts pictures of the best time they’re having; no one posts pictures of themselves sitting in their rooms crying.” Although this quote and this case are extreme, they indicate an important point about social media use; the short moments that you see on someone’s Instagram or Snapchat are not indicative of their actual experience.
I am guilty of overusing social media. I use it to warp people’s perception of my life. Yet, I am also guilty of taking for truth what other people post, and letting it affect me. There is irony in social media – it connects you to millions of people with a mere tap of a screen, yet it also makes you feel utterly alone. After reaching this realization, I made a conscious effort to post less and minimize the attention I gave to my virtual feeds.
Once I stopped comparing my situation in college to the situations portrayed through my friends Instagrams, I found solace. I began to appreciate my time at UCSD more. I realized that no matter where you are, freshman year will feel isolating and overwhelming, and although it may suggest otherwise on social media, everyone has a similar experience.
Sophie Reynolds is a staff writer for The Triton.