Reading between the Instagram feeds

Many people’s social media presences do not reflect their realities.

By Bhavya Pant, Collegian Contributor

An inevitable repercussion of transitioning into college is drifting away from old friends. Ties that once weathered time—from the Walkman to the BlackBerry to the iPhone—slip through your grip like sand and occupy the dusty back-burners of acquaintanceship. I too was a victim of this plight; soon, any update I got regarding this particular friend of mine was exclusively through social media. Looking at her Instagram, I got the impression that she was having the time of her life. Her ever-familiar grin—although now beside unfamiliar faces—adorned the latest addition to her feed. I smiled contentedly and double-tapped. “Good for her,” I thought.

Our conversations were long reduced to the occasional, monosyllabic text seeking life updates. Nostalgia, however, recently prompted me to give her a call. My mundane “How have you been?” suddenly held new meaning; tearing through the glowing, rectangular defense of her “good, how about you,” she broke down and revealed to me that she had been depressed for months and was now seeking help. The fatigue in her voice was evident and I couldn’t help but visualize her teary eyes. Adjusting to her new life in a new surrounding wasn’t coming easy to her. What I couldn’t fathom, however, was how very oblivious I had been. “She was my closest friend back home,” I thought. “How did I not realize it?” It struck me then that we tend to visualize people’s lives as a montage of their Instagram feeds. Yet, the reality is far from it. Everyone’s online persona says that they’ve ‘got it all under control’ and then some.

Signs of mental distress are far more covert than we imagine. For example, for all you know, someone who just posted a sun-kissed selfie might be having a terrible day. In fact, every like our photo gets and every follower our account gains is a rush of dopamine in our brain. Social media for many may simply be a coping mechanism. Why reach out and seek help when you can numb your sorrow in the admirations of your digital smile?

Also, most of our interactions today predominantly require the use of our thumbs. While this undoubtedly boosts accessibility and hence productivity, there are things that we lose out on. There is something about a heart-to-heart telephone conversation that messaging cannot quite replicate, no matter how many emojis and gifs it uses to fill the void. Moreover, hearing someone’s voice on the other end gives us tiny cues to help discern their state of mind. Be it the excitement oozing from your best friend’s voice that presages the imminent gossip, or the morose tone of their “Hey” which tells you that all is not okay. Audio-vocal communication is the quintessence of human language; it cannot simply be elbowed out of the way.

In conclusion, we must realize that an individual’s online persona is not their entire actuality. If anything, it is a glimpse of their high-points. What lies in the gaps is the rollercoaster called everyday life: full of thrills, bumps and bruises. So, next time you’re feeling low and someone’s Snap Story shows them scuba-diving in an exotic island, don’t beat yourself up. Be happy for their high-point and know that yours is not too far away. While you might think that a loved one is doing fine because their Instagram feed is all smiles, or they replied to your “How are you doing?” with a “Great,” it’s always better to give them a good old-fashioned phone call.

Bhavya Pant is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]