Have you ever gone down a rabbit hole of stalking people on Instagram that you’ve never met? Or watch vlog after vlog (video blog) of strangers’ lives on the internet? The answer for the average Gen Z kid in the U.S. is probably “yes,” because technology is such a big part of our lives. It becomes second-nature to so many of us: wake up, brush teeth, eat breakfast, and check our phones to see what everyone else is up to.
Sometimes, though, I can take a mental step back and imagine what life was like before social media. As much as it pains me to say this (I sound like such a Gen Z kid), I forget that there was a time when people met face-to-face only, didn’t snap photos of their food, and never watched vlogs of strangers for fun. So, what happened? Why do we care about people that we don’t even know? And why do we insist on keeping tabs on them via the internet?
I enjoy the internet. I enjoy social media. I even enjoy watching vlogs and scrolling through the Instagram pages of people I don’t know. And while that might seem unnatural to older generations, I think it’s entirely natural.
Humans are a social species. We crave connection, communication, and community. We’re curious about each other, our similarities, and our interests. We always have been. Of course, connection, communication, and community have evolved, but social media and the internet are not the beginning of this evolution. Telegrams, telephones, televisions, fax machines — all these technological advancements changed the way humans socialize, and I’m sure the older generations of those times also thought them to be unnatural.
Of course, in my opinion, there will be no form of technology that will replace the essence of physical, face-to-face contact. Humans cannot live a sane life off of screens and phone calls alone. There is an element of distance in every phone and Skype call, vlog and Instagram page. Yet, it can be so easy to believe that these virtual connections we have with people count as real connections, and perhaps that’s the unnatural part.
I don’t think restricting yourself from using social media or the Internet is the answer. In many cases, seeing the life of strangers on the internet can be so interesting. For example, I can watch travel vloggers explore a country I’ve always wanted to visit, or see an influencer go to events at New York Fashion Week. Seeing these things online is so much easier than buying a plane ticket, and much more accessible than attending VIP fashion shows. But I also try to remind myself that whatever I’m watching isn’t a replacement for actually living that experience, and whoever I’m following on social media isn’t a replacement for meeting a real person in real life.