I recently 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, this is my interview with Catherine Cavin.
Name/Age/Where are you from?:
Catherine Cavin, 22, from Nashville, TN
How long have you been using social media?
"I was never allowed to have a MySpace growing up so I totally missed that phase. I remember being probably 8 or 9 and having a membership to American Girl online, where you had a little email profile and I thought it was the coolest thing to be able to email my cousin. I started watching YouTube videos when I was 10, and I finally made my Facebook account when I was 12 or 13, after days proving to my parents that it was 'safe.'"
How has social media benefitted you, and how has it negatively affected you?
"Over the years I have honestly been able to learn so much about myself, the people I surround myself with and the world as a whole from social media. Social media, particularly for Americans I feel, has changed SO much just in the past couple of years. I credit social media for playing a big role in "popping" the bubble I grew up in. I was always raised to love people fully and wholeheartedly, no matter what their differences or ideas or brokenness may be. But I have always lived in upper-middle class, white neighborhoods with churches on every corner. So, my world view was pretty small. I will never forget the death of Mike Brown and the response of the community in Ferguson, Missouri. I was really active on tumblr at that point in my life, and it was on that website I first learned about the chaos, long before I ever heard it on the news."
"I remember showing my parents posts from people who were there, taking pictures and documenting their first hand experiences, and my parents didn't believe that it was real at first. When they started hearing about it from more traditional news sources, however, then they listened. That was a huge turning point for me. It showed me that there is more going on in this world than what's on the surface, that there are voices crying out to be heard yet they are being treated like they don't exist at all just because they don't have the platform of the mainstream media. It's pushed me to seek out the voices in my own community that are being ignored, and that has helped me grow so much in every way. I am more aware, I am more compassionate, and I try to make more of a point to listen before I speak."
"I continue to use social media sites such as Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook to keep invested in what's actually going on in the world. I think it's incredibly valuable to connect with people all over the country and the world, to hear their stories in their own words. However social media is not necessarily a perfect or complete representation of the people who take part in it. And it is so easy to lose sight of that, even when I don't realize it. Social media can also quite easily become an echo chamber of people all spouting the same ideas over and over again, giving us the illusion that most of the world agrees with our point of view. I have learned to make a point of following people from all over the political spectrum, because I want to try to hear from everyone. In this way, I try my best to examine people's beliefs and analyze why people think the way they do, and consider how we can reconcile our differences. This helps to challenge me and help me to remain critical of the sources I trust. As a woman who is passionate about social justice, I think this is really important."
Have you experienced insecurity in your life? If so, in what ways? Has social media helped heal those insecurities, or has it enabled them?
"Lord have mercy, I have experienced a ton of insecurity in my life. I have have battled severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder throughout my life, and it manifested mainly in my obsession with needing to be seen as "perfect." OCD can make a person's thoughts really irrational and overwhelming, and for whatever reason I was constantly obsessed with and in fear of my peers. I was convinced everyone doubted me to the point where it was nearly crippling, amplifying every very social interaction I had. So this idea, this compulsion to be "perfect" became this ideal that I reached for, what I saw as my answer to everything. If I was perfect, people would have nothing bad to say about me, right?"
"In my OCD-ridden and immature mind, this made a lot of sense to me. As I grew closer to my teenage years especially, my life really began to revolve around this. So you can imagine when I was first introduced to the world of Facebook at age 12, I was thrilled. Social media became the way that I thought I could control people's perception on me. I would spend hours compulsively looking through my peer's profiles and comparing them to mine. I developed so many compulsive behaviors around social media. When instagram came along I was the same way, trying my best to have the "perfect" instagram feed. Needless to say, I exhausted myself."
"In recent years, as I have begun to recognize and treat my OCD, my relationship with social media has become much healthier. At this point in my life, I'm thankful for social media. Despite the way that it triggered my mental illness, it also has helped me to connect to others with OCD and bring me hope. I gained more perspective in my treatment and I'm able to kind of keep social media in in it's place, if that makes sense. Now, I'm really utilizing social media as a platform to share my life and my own experiences with mental illness. I'm hoping to help educate people and bring awareness to the realities of OCD, but also just generally sharing my life, with all my mistakes and imperfections, to create more of a welcoming atmosphere where people feel they can just be their genuine selves online you know? It's kind of come full circle for me."
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?
"Social media gives us this illusion of authenticity. You think that if that girl posts pictures of her looking beautiful with her beautiful boyfriend and her beautiful house and beautiful sorority sisters that her life must be beautiful and perfect, right? We so easily take all of that at face value, especially when we're young. And heck, even at 22-years old I am still pulling at the remnants of that mindset. When you're scrolling through your feed and seeing all these people posting the best parts of themselves, you can't help but compare it to your imperfect life, even if you do so unconsciously. Especially at a young, impressionable age when kids are still trying to figure out who they are, where they fit in and what "normal" looks like, social media can really play a role in that."
"Honestly, I worry so much about younger kids with smartphones, kids who's brains aren't yet able to step back and say, 'this isn't important, this isn't real life.' I think we need to more to monitor kids on social media and shield them from some of pressures it can create. For example, I, for one, love the online beauty community and I follow lots of instagram models, but I also think it has sadly contributed to this hyper-sexualization of women online. We have 12, 13 year old girls who look my age posting photos online in very little clothing and in sexy poses. I am all for letting girls dress how they please and pose however they wish, but I also fear for these girls because I wonder if they feel like they have to dress like that and also, the comments are disgusting. I worry that they are making themselves vulnerable to sexual predators, and it's just sad to me."
"I wish that women could dress however they wanted and not deal with harassment as a consequence, but unfortunately with where we are today it's just how people react. And I don't think girls should be subjected to that at such a young age. I had a friend who was sexually harassed by an older man when she was in her early teenage years, and it really damaged her self-image and future relationships. I just wish we could do more to let these girls express themselves in a safe environment. The internet is just a disgusting place sometimes."
"I think things like this project, being intentional with social media and using it to promote vulnerability and authenticity, can make a big dent in the amount of anxiety a kid can experience from social media. I love women like Iskra Lawrence and Ashley Graham, who are beautiful and themselves but also embrace their cellulite and all their 'imperfections.' If we used social media to teach kids how to love themselves as they are instead of yearning for the figure of a face-tuned 25-year-old, think of the difference that would make. We need to do more to give kids a realistic perspective, to help them see that social media is not the real world. Let people post their full face of makeup and use face tune as much as they want, but maybe pair it with posts providing commentary to kids that says 'hey, this is just one way to live your life. You don't have to look like this.' You know?"
Why do people love social media so much?
"I love it because I think it's really fun! I love exploring social media, learning about new trends and ideas and connecting with people all over the world. Overall, I think humans just love connection. We are social creatures who crave social interaction, whether that's in person or behind a screen. And honestly, for validation, too. I love posting a selfie and getting a lot of likes. That's validating. It makes me feel good, I won't deny that. Especially when you're young and craving validation in your awkward pubescent years, it makes SO much sense why young teens would cling to social media like they do."
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?
"If we suddenly got rid of social media, the world I think would move at a slower pace. I often wonder where we would be politically in this country if we didn't have social media. If it all suddenly crashed, I think people would become really upset. I know I would. I use it to keep in touch with people I love all over the world, and I do love having that connection. So, I hope that never happens!"