More than a screen name – living outside an online persona

happy young african american uni student using cell phone for online, social media

How long does it take you to pick out a filter on Instagram? What about a caption? How many of us are guilty of sending a “preview” of our potential social media post to a friend, to verify that what we’re about to post is in fact “Insta-worthy?” At what point during our angst in choosing the perfect filter, do we lose sight of the moment captured by camera? How often have we participated in an event, with the end goal being a great picture, rather than a great time with friends?

It’s no secret that in today’s world, social media is a force to be reckoned with. Just the other day, I was reading a list of 100 Most Influential People, and one of the determining factors was social media presence – how many followers and likes an individual received in comparison to others. I’m not denying that I use social media – I’m guilty of losing track of time scrolling through photos of friends, and getting caught up in Facebook statuses – yet, I have to wonder if our obsession with creating a quality social media presence, takes away from the quality of our personal relationships.

As I mulled over this dilemma, I looked over my various social media accounts and tried to judge it from a stranger’s point of view. If you were to look at my various social media, you would see a student dedicated to service, her friends and family, as well as her college education. What you wouldn’t find is my face free of makeup, or a status detailing how stressed I am – or anything at all that would spark controversy. I’ll be the first to admit I need words of affirmation – I want my friends and family to express that what I have chosen to invest my time in is not only important, but also interesting. I want people think, “Wow! I wish I could be like her” as they look over my online presence. But with each picture I post and link that I share, I have to wonder if the person I am online is real.

My parents have always stressed to me that what I post on the Internet is here to stay; and while I appreciate their commitment to ensuring I put my best “virtual foot forward” for future graduate programs and job offers, I wonder if I took their words too seriously. I believe many students share the same uncertainty I do – what exactly do I want my posts to suggest? That I’m fun? I’m healthy? I look great? But herein lies the problem that I find all too often in my own life, and with friends: post too many pictures of being fun, and you run the risk of not being taken seriously. Post too many pictures of you at the gym – you may come across as trying too hard. Post a picture of you dressed up for a night on the town – you may be called out for fishing for a compliment or two. Social media is a delicate tightrope walk – on one hand, I want to leave my best impression for anyone who stumbles across my pages, but on the other, I want to be genuine and authentic in a world where there are so many students like me.

Although I’m still not sure where my social media persona ends and the real me begins, I’ve taken steps make the distinction a little more clear. My advice? Less is more. The less time I spend thinking about social media, and my next great picture, or status update, the more time I have to just simply be. I know that sounds cheesy, but the only way people will get to know the “real” me is if I separate myself from the various screens and focus on my actions and conversations in the present. I think I can speak for many, when I say there’s nothing more refreshing than meeting someone you haven’t looked up online and discovering they are so much more than their screen name.

Haley Schavemaker

Haley Schavemaker

Haley currently attends the University of Florida. She dreams of becoming an occupational therapist and working with our nation’s veterans.