Social Media: Not So Social?

James Manso is a Scripps Ranch High School senior who is heading to NYU in the fall. He writes columns for the SRCA Newsletter, giving us a look inside SRHS. He’s a busy young man. James is the high school’s yearbook editor in chief, Fashion Club president, Improv Team publicist, and an intern at San Diego Magazine. No wonder he calls his column, “Where the Coffee Never Stops.” Actually, the title is inspired by a nonfiction piece by his favorite nonfiction writer, Joan Didion.

I met up with an old friend of mine recently to catch up over some steaming lattes on a cold night. I chose a favored spot in La Jolla so we could go uninterrupted by the Scripps Ranch High School population that monopolizes Starbucks—I think we both had a lot to share in privacy—so I was surprised when I ran into a former peer from my freshman Spanish class. She’s two years my senior, with really beautiful shoes and even chicer Instagram posts. In our brief exchange I made a point to tell her that she looked really happy with her life. She disclosed with a sigh that this was not the case, and that social media can make anything look poetic with a witty caption and a nice filter.

Although our encounter lasted little more than a few minutes, I haven’t stopped thinking about social media’s place in a high school setting. When I think of teenagers and social media, I think of all of the verbal conversations I’ve had with people preoccupied with their phones and only getting one-word responses, which felt rude and inconsiderate. But I’m not sure that’s all there is to it.

Social media’s inherent purpose is to keep in touch with people, which doesn’t totally make sense to me in a high school setting because we already spend five days a week with each other. I’m an avid participator, but I also think it dominates a little bit too much of our lives. At this point, there’s no reason to go out of the house unless you can get a photo worth posting. I’m not sure when we stopped going out because we liked going out or the people we were going out with, but I miss the reality of those experiences.

So what has made social media so prominent? What about it demands attention? I searched “social media high school” on Google News. I didn’t really care to read any of the articles, but there were only pieces about cyberbullying and threats. I still think that’s an issue of anonymity. People seem to be under the serious misinformation that nobody has the ability to retrieve their identity and that nobody ever will. And most of us have things we’d love to share in the physical world if we knew we could detach our identities from those sentiments, however terrible they may be.

We’re supposed to be the young, social media-savvy teens who usher in this new dimension of human interactions, but I think we’re still figuring it out as well. There is a long list of internet altercations between students, whether it be on Facebook—which Twitter rendered obsolete—Twitter, or the recent Burnbook app.

The new application’s name is a reference to the timeless classic film Mean Girls. The token “mean girl” writes vituperatively honest comments on everybody in the school in a so-called “Burn Book,” which is really just a fuzzy pink scrapbook with a terrible cover design. Some of the posts were harmless jokes that had been circulating the internet for a while, but most of them weren’t quite as harmless and unapologetically directed toward specific people.

Except for the occasional poignant tweet or beautiful Instagram, it feels like social media just gives students another platform to hate each other—evidently a pastime of high school students. So why do we play into it? Why do we choose to not only actively participate but to perpetuate? I think it’s because we’re in too deep. At this point anyone without a Twitter account isn’t just stuck in 2009, they’re really poorly informed. Social media has made its way into every conversation since I rode the bus to Marshall Middle School every day and before any of us knew any better.

I think as more of us participate, we see the lives of other people glamorized on our phone screens and we want that too. We only really mention the highlights of our lives or the pinnacles of our humor because we want everybody to know about that really fun trip to the beach last summer—or how tan and toned we looked in our swimwear. We tweet that hilarious one-liner we thought of earlier today because we want people to think we’re funny because everyone loves funny people.

Social media allows us to create alternate personalities and is a realm where we can be the people we want to be. That is, we can be the very best of ourselves. Ultimately, I think that a large group of people lose sight of reality or prefer the internet entirely. These people do not look at each other in the hall, they look at their phones. We do not think of things to mention to friends but to tweet later on. That alienates one from reality, where one does not talk to people in person and one does not participate in class.

That is why it is important to stay in the loop, to participate, to understand a crucial piece of our generation, but we also must know when to reel ourselves back in. We’re at an impressionable age where regularly returning to our true selves in public is becoming a rarity. Speaking from personal experience, meeting anyone who can maintain their true temperaments on and off the computer screen is more refreshing than any cup of coffee.

James Manso, SRHS Senior