I met Emily last July in New Zealand, we were both there to attend a mutual friend of ours' wedding. She is a very talented photographer in Southern California, and when I posted on The Intentionality Project's Instagram page asking for volunteers to be interviewed for this segment, she was quick to offer her thoughts and perspective. Even though we weren't able to meet up for a face-to-face interview due to distance, I am thankful that she took the time to participate in an email interview. You can find her on Instagram: @heyemilysaenz
How long have you been using social media platforms?
"Does AIM count? I was all about Myspace back in the day, so I guess that means I've been using social media platforms for...over 14 years.
How has social media benefitted you? How has social media negatively affected you?
I think it's benefitted me in a lot of ways. I have made friends through Instagram and connected with others in all sorts of ways in all sorts of places. I've discovered so much from delicious restaurants to cool furniture companies to coffee shops to poets to epic spots to visit in New Zealand. It's enabled me to stay in touch with people, learn about issues in the world, discover causes I can get behind, hear about events I can attend, and so much more. It's helped me grow my business, too! As a photographer, it makes it easy to have a consistently updated portfolio out there. It's safe to say that most of my inquiries start with someone mentioning they've seen my work on Facebook or Instagram. I can't imagine having to market my business through an avenue other than social media and I'm thankful I don't have to! I've never put that much thought about this question before, but now that I've put all this into words, I feel appreciative of what social media has brought to my life. I feel like it's helped me live a fuller one.
That being said, I do see how it has its negative effects. It can take away from being present and can make it harder for us to live in the moment and appreciate our own beautiful life. I think it's made it more challenging for us to connect in social settings, considering we're all competing with everyone's very own curated internet experience accessible in any given moment. Often, our feeds feel more stimulating or entertaining than what's going on in front of us, so I think we sometimes over-embrace social media at the expense of the connections right around us, or even to the detriment of our connection with ourselves or with God. Solitude and stillness can be uncomfortable and social media makes it easy to never have to face the quiet. Also, I think I've let social media create in me this sharing compulsion. I have to regularly remind myself that appreciating beauty or a moment or some insight by myself is enough. I don't need to share something for it to matter. I also struggle with that late night lurking that often results in insecurity, dissatisfaction, and exhaustion, you know, where you find yourself idealizing others' lives and comparing yours to this idea you have of theirs based on their posts. I think social media, when not used carefully, can breed discontentment, isolation, and disconnectedness, but I feel like the potential negatives of social media can be combatted if we're mindful, self-aware, and choose a more life-giving path."
Some studies have been released showing that social media is a direct cause of depression and insecurity in teens...what is your perspective on why that might be the case?
"This breaks my heart. I assume depression and insecurity spring up in teenagers for all the same reasons I've seen social media cause that in me. I think that many of the skills it takes to navigate social media in a healthy way are the skills that teenagers are just beginning to develop, so the potential for it to have a negative effect on them is so high. The teen years are such a fragile time; trying to develop identity, emotional understanding, and a sense of belonging seems extremely challenging when social media is available and has been for as long as you can remember. It's hard to not be on your phone if all your friends are, which means building strong connections is harder. I'd guess they feel fully known and fully loved less frequently, as they trade the real thing in for this social media version of it, which is shallower, more instantly gratifying.
Also, social media floods teenagers with many messages about who they should be and it's probably very hard to filter those. Then there's the moments of seeing people hanging out without them, and we all know that's never fun. They can see people doing "cooler" things that they may not get to do. They can see clothes, make-up, fashion they maybe can't afford, and may feel like they'll never measure up to this impossible standard of beauty.
As humans, it's scary to share about things that make us feel ashamed. That being said, I can imagine that many teenagers think they're alone in their struggles with things like depression, anxiety, self-harm, body shame, etc. and seeing all these polished, branded versions of people surely doesn't help. All these accounts of people who seem like they have it all together may confirm to teenagers that they're the only one going through what they're going through. I don't know if they all have the insight to know that many people out there are working to create a perception of themselves that isn't who they really are. There's also all the cyber-bullying and people hiding behind their screens saying awful things they'd never say in person. It makes so much sense to me that social media would breed insecurity and depression in teenagers. I hope that's remedied somehow."
How would life be different if social media didn't exist?
"WOW. That is hard to fathom. I mean, I guess I can go off of what life was like for me before AIM and Myspace, but then my answer would just be: there'd be a lot more rollerblading, razoring around town, and making up dances to Britney Spears. I guess I would say that I picture us knowing way less about the world. We wouldn't get information as quickly. We wouldn't know of all the things we could be doing, places we could go, people we could know -- that being said, since we wouldn't know about all that, we may feel more content with our own simple lives? I honestly don't know. This one's tricky."
Have you experienced insecurity in your life? If so, in what ways? And do you feel social media has made it worse, or has it helped you?
"Why yes of course I have! In all sorts of ways! I feel like I've always struggled with a sense of belonging. I've often felt on the outside of things, and in some ways, I think social media has exacerbated that issue for me by reminding me of relationships I've lost, of cool things I could be doing if I still was friends with so-and-so, or of friend groups I never felt like I could break into but wanted so badly to be a part of. That part's not fun for me - the reminders of feelings of failure or rejection. But social media only gives you a tiny glimpse into everyone's reality, so I gotta remind myself of that. I battle with thinking I need others' approval to feel wanted, loved, successful, or valuable, so social media -- with it's likes and follows and tricky little way of quantifying approval -- can be a trap, for sure. In many ways, social media prods at all those insecure little places in my soul, but simultaneously, exposes me to myself and I get to choose what to do with what I see."
"Sometimes my reaction to things on social media shows me I've got my worth in the wrong things. But, sometimes my reactions show me how far I've come. When I can tell my responses to something now are radically different than what they were a year ago, I feel stoked and thankful that social media can be a way to gauge growth. Those moments build my confidence and make me feel proud! Social media also helps me see that I have something to offer the world. Getting to be a part of this grand community, this giant exchange of gifts, talents, and perspectives is really rad to me. I see the place I have it in all and experience the joy of so many other peoples' ways of participating and I feel happy about that."
Why do you think people love social media so much?
"It's fun. It's stimulating. It's beautiful. It's funny. It's expressive. It's intriguing. It's mysterious. It's inspiring. There's tension, learning, creating, laughter, connection, and conversation. There's also instant gratification. Or the lack thereof, and the subsequent striving. I mean, let's be honest -- social media is one giant playground for our egos to run wild. That part of us that wants to be esteemed, known, celebrated, or adored feeds on the possibilities presented by social media. There's a way to have quantifiably proven status, which is so wild. It's opened up people's minds to this realization that they can have some sort of fame, even if it's in this small niche. I think that's part of what people love about it -- that it presents this path to pursue towards having influence. And, I've noticed that it makes those with influence in our culture feel so much closer. It makes us feel like we know people we otherwise wouldn't feel like we have access to, and they could maybe see your comment or your fan account or what have you, and I think that's exciting for a lot of people."
"All in all, it's one big platform upon which we can do so many of the things we long to do as humans. We get to connect with others, create with others, teach, learn, discover, inspire and be inspired. Social media shows us how big this world is and at the same time, connects us all and makes the world feel small. Lastly, I've heard it said, "Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow," and I think that's a lot of what makes the social media world go round."