A week or so ago I reached out to those following The Intentionality Project on Instagram asking if anyone would like to volunteer to participate in an email interview to continue this segment on the topic of social media. I was blown away at the response. The next several entries are going to be interviews with people I have never met before, starting with Stefanie Madison, 25 (@stefanie.madison on IG). I am so thankful and encouraged by how many people expressed interest in participating, and I hope you enjoy this next set of interviews as much as I do!
How long have you been using social media?
"I was there when myspace and Tumblr were a thing if that paints a picture for ya. But seriously I've been using it since before social media was "cool", I guess. Which is strange to think back on. I remember first downloading Instagram when people were actually using the Instagram filters. It's so incredibly crazy to see how Instagram, specifically, has transformed over the years."
How has social media benefitted you, and how has it negatively affected you?
"I feel like, especially recently, it's almost become a trend to talk about the negative effects of social media. I get it. It can be a very dark place and I've seen first hand what it can do to your soul if you wake up and immediately give yourself to the world. I mean think about it- most of us have access to these tiny screens 24/7. We're constantly filling some sort of void through our social media apps whether we realize it or not. It can definitely turn from a place of inspiration to a place of wandering and self doubt quickly. But I think we've gotten so hung up on this trend of talking about "being real" on social media that we've completely missed the underlying problem which is our need to feel validated and seen in the first place."
"For me personally, I notice that my relationship with social media has turned unhealthy when I find myself scrolling mindlessly and thinking self sabotaging thoughts like "if only I could look like her," or "wow. he/she such a good photographer. I'm not that good and I won't ever be," or "people really like her. look at all of her followers. I'll never be liked as much as her." or "I don't feel noticed today. I'm going to go post something." Just writing these out make my heart hurt because I've thought these actual thoughts many times and I'm sure other people have struggled with thinking similar thoughts. It's just sad. I hate that a tiny device can literally have so much control over our thoughts. We have to take our thoughts captive every second of every day. Social media only works long term if we're not using it as a "look at me, look at me" space. That mentality will never work because when it comes down to it we're all looking at ourselves pleading for another set of eyes to do the same. It's entrapping, paralyzing, and numbing."
"But there is good news. On a good day, social media can literally be the best thing in this world and I truly think that. As much power as it has to entrap us, the same power is there to set us free and remind us of the beauty amidst all the adversity and mundane. I've made some of the sweetest friendships in my whole life through social media. I've been challenged, encouraged, and prayed for countless times. I've seen and experienced what it looks like when two complete strangers find safety in one another and feel compelled to share their stories and struggles with each other. It can literally pave a way for people to open up and connect in ways far beyond ourselves because I think people feel a lot more comfortable connecting behind a screen. Obviously, that can become unhealthy, too, but, for me, this platform has been a way to speak life into people. I've always told myself that if I'm going to have a platform it has to be steward well and anything I post needs to leave people better than I found them- it needs to leave people encouraged. I never want to add to someones pain by making them feel less then, or coveting, or not enough. I think I've grown a lot from using social media just from seeing how people abuse it."
Have you experienced insecurity in your life? If so, in what ways? Has social media helped heal those insecurities, or has it enabled them?
"I'm a pretty strong willed person and I think because I'm so convinced that things we get hung up on in this life don't matter a ton in light of eternity, it has kept me afloat from really feeling weighed down by any one insecurity. But of course, I've had days where I've felt like a stranger in my own skin. I think it's inevitable. For me, I've always felt really insecure about speaking. I can write for days and communicate well on paper but speaking out loud literally terrifies me. Even just having a deeper one on one conversation with someone. I don't know when this started. For the longest time I've been trying to figure out why this insecurity could exist and I think it really stems from me thinking that people will compare my verbal communication in real life to my written communication on social media and not think I'm as great.. and now that I'm actually writing this out I'm realizing that this is clearly a much deeper rooted issue than just being nervous about public speaking haha so, yeah I guess it would be safe to say social media has 100% enabled and fed this insecurity of mine. Dang. Noted."
"It's weird though because I think no matter what insecurity we struggle with we always somehow end up trying to excuse it by giving it a physical explantation. For instance, whenever someone would ask me to speak at a workshop or on a podcast I would immediately say no without even thinking about it. I'd say something like "oh, no sorry. I can't do that. Speaking isn't my strength. I'm much better at writing." Which is 100% true but I don't pass up speaking engagements because I'm a better writer. I pass them up because I'm scared of speaking and its so much easier to run from fear than face it. When it boils down to it, insecurity is rooted in fear and I think that plays a huge part in the type of world we're living in today."
Some studies have been released recently showing that depression and anxiety in teens has been linked to social media use. What is your perspective on why that might be the case?
"Gosh. Such a heavy topic. Teenage years are such foundational years so I think the problem with being engulfed by social media at that age is that the mind is still so ripe and easily manipulated. I remember being a teen and going through this weird limbo of knowing my beliefs and standing firm in them but still catching myself feeling so swayed by the world in moments of weakness. I can't imagine what it's like being a teen and living in the society we're living in now where social media is so prevalent. Middle school and high school can be brutal but throw in social media where you're comparing yourself to a bunch of strangers even after that school bell rings and you go home and you've got a big problem. Especially knowing that teens now a days are being exposed to things even earlier than their teenage years..it makes sense why anxiety and depression is at an all time high."
"I'm 25, and even at this age, some of the things I see on social media can be really heart wrenching but I think for teens it hits 1,000x worse because they're in this stage of trying to find themselves and fit in and make friends and learn whats important and whats not. It's just a lot of pressure and heaviness. The world can be so cruel and when you're exposed to a certain amount of cruelty early on I think it's easier to let it fester away at your soul because that foundational strength is kind of still developing. What's sad is that statistics like these are becoming more and more normal. I hate that more than anything."
"If anyone is reading this that is struggling from depression or anxiety right now please hear me out: you are worth far more than tiny squares and witty captions. I hope you know that you have a purpose. There is breath in your lungs. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that your feelings are worthless or in vain. You matter. You matter so much. This is a season. It will pass and you will feel freedom again. Breathe in deeply and exhale slowly. This is your story but it's only a chapter. Don't try to rip it out. Embrace it. Lean into it. You're not alone. Count it all as joy. You were made for such a time as this and you will overcome it. Just as I know the sun will rise I am sure that you, too, will rise. Keep going, my friend."
Why do people love social media so much?
"We all want to be seen and heard and social media makes it really easy to do that. Not to mention we can do it in a way that portrays ourselves in the light we want to be seen. We can curate the perfect life. I think for some it becomes an escape for reality. I think another reason is because we want to stay in the loop. With social media and the news, we can know whats happening across the world in literally 5 seconds. Everything is instant. I think for some reason we thrive off that. We're all dealing with some serious FOMO."
What would life look like if social media didn't exist? How do you think people would react if it suddenly crashed and ceased to exist today?
"Wow. I truly can't imagine a world without social media. I think it would be a refreshing change though. What if we actually had to start being intentional with our time? We would actually have to call our friends and family to check in on them and not rely on a "new post" notification. Speaking for myself here, but I don't text people as often as I should "just because" and I'm working on that. I think having social media has gotten us in this mindset of thinking "well if I'm following so and so that will keep me up to date with his/her life" and vice versa. We feel connected but it's really just false perception. We're more disconnected than ever."
"I think if social media suddenly ceased to exist there would be a lot more hard conversation, we'd get to know people for who they really were instead of just how they appeared to be. I thrive off of learning someone's story- I always want to dig deeper- but I think a lot of people can find contentment in surface level relationships. It's comfortable and it doesn't require much. Not having this outlet for immediate gratification and surface level connections would flip everyone on their heads I think. But maybe that would be for the best? Im not sure. I definitely think theres a need for social media and it has the ability to be really life giving when used correctly but, man, I would hope that if it disappeared we would be okay with it and keep living our lives."
"Something that I always like to remember is that our neediness for God is an honor. We can walk around all day trying to find fulfillment through an app, our job, other people, etc. but at the end of the day we were created with a desire to be whole and fully known. I think if we put down our phones every once in awhile and look up at the sky and just rest in the promises of The Lord and pay attention to the details we'll find that the wholeness we've been searching for has been there all along. Its found in our neediness and in the moments where we surrender ourselves and our desires for the sake of others."
"Social media can get us seen, no doubt, but if we want to be fully known we've got to be willing to surrender our moments of fame for the sake of humble vulnerability. More connection, less comparison- that's my prayer for our generation."