A world of endless scrolling: Reflecting on the effects of social media

Victoria Michalska

We are at a critical point in internet history: Governments are preparing to investigate web giants like Google and Facebook, and people seem to be reconsidering their relationships to the infinite space that they could access in seconds from their smartphones or smartwatches. I’d like to remind y’all of the potential beautiful and honest self-expression that our devices can provide.

Viral videos may very easily be the epitome of the 15 minutes of world-fame that Andy Warhol mentioned in 1968, more than two decades before the invention of the World Wide Web. Nearly 60 percent of the global population is on the internet now, in comparison to 16 percent in 2005. With the accessibility to online broadcasting platforms, incentivized with the potential of our peers’ approval, marked by a like count, it only makes sense that we’d all occasionally see whether or not we could make it big; or rather, could we make it bigger than our friends and family? Envy is undeniably part of the show that is social media. 

Initially, the web seemed mystical. The level of connection that we now experience is underappreciated and dismissed far too casually. When the internet first came out, it was a miracle to be able to maintain the dial-up connection, and the shock at being able to speak to somebody instantly across the world was definitely part of the reason why “ASL?” became such a commonplace acronym in the early years of the internet. It wasn’t until the launch of broadband in the early 2000s that accessing the internet began to feel nonchalant, and it wasn’t until the creation of grids, frameworks and responsive web design starting in 2007, that the mobile uprising did occur, bringing us so much closer to our devices. 

We’re stuck in a world of endless scrolling now. The feature has been described as “behavioral cocaine” by its inventor, Aza Raskin. He has even formally gone out of his way to apologize for the creation and the way it has affected users everywhere. Like a nicotine craving, as a social media user, we’re just looking for the next rush of pleasure and satisfaction, whether it’s hitting 100 likes on an Instagram photo, or seeing a potential love interest post a cute photo on their story. Anything longer than 280 characters or longer than seven seconds is overwhelming, boring and excessive. Haven’t you pressed “Read more…” on a Facebook post, and immediately decided to keep scrolling instead because it immediately stopped being worth the time and effort? I sure have. 

However, due to technical limitations, the first social media platforms actually consisted of exclusively long journal entries, written by regular people, and then shared with their friends. An example of this was LiVEJOURNAL, founded in 1999, and which, at its peak in 2005, had 2.5 million users. Clearly, something has changed, and I’m not sure if it’s for the better. What can you really say in 280 characters, anyway? 

I deleted all of my traditional social media platform accounts for the entirety of my first year at Williams. It felt uniquely lonesome, considering how people seem to be afraid to talk and be truly honest with one another in person; it’s ironic, considering how increased social media use has been proven to increase feelings of loneliness and depression. At least I got to be alone with the beauty of the Purple Valley. It was also interesting considering that nobody actually knew anything about me because there was no real record of me that they could cyberstalk. Of course, I was still addicted to my phone, because how else would I avoid eye contact with people on the street? So I read the news. 

Now I’m back on Instagram, which admittedly, might be the worst culprit of the superficiality plaguing social media platforms. I try not to give into it too much, though, and I’d like to think I live my life happily and without restriction, actively using social media as a platform to broadcast myself using photography and written word. Rather than breaking down my identity to the surface-level perfection that I wished my life was, I chose to use it as a platform for self-expression and honesty, in the hopes to make others feel comfortable enough to do so as well. Endless scrolling is addictive and it’s so easy to fall into the pitfalls of social media, from the fear of missing out to the temptation of unrealistic beauty standards. While I think we’re old enough to know these facts, a casual reminder is helpful and an attentive mind is essential. 

From the very beginning, the appeal of the internet lay in its infinite, quirky and lawless nature. Presently, tech giants have shaped the space to create certain expectations and to encourage certain behaviors, but that isn’t necessarily the only way it can be. Merely let this serve as a reminder that the internet doesn’t have to be the way it is, and that the translation between the WebSphere and reality doesn’t necessarily have to be so stark as it is now. 

Victoria Michalska ’22 is from Maspeth, New York.