Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Does social media really connect us?
The last couple of weeks, one of my university classes assigned the "Rejection Olympics", a project where we had to go out into public and take on a series of tasks that were designed to lead to us being rejected. Tasks like "Try to get a refund at the wrong store" or "Ask for a discount next time you buy a coffee, tea, or water bottle". It was essentially a social experiment to see the ways in which rejection affects our lives and get more comfortable with it. We were given a Bingo card with 16 tasks and had to essentially get Bingo. But I was intrigued with the concept so I paired up with a partner, my good friend Yan Castaldo, to hold me accountable and we both decided to cross off everything on the list, which we both did.
And it was an interesting experience.
It definitely felt uncomfortable to do many of the things on the list. It was uncomfortable, for example, to sit on the phone with poor Ryan, who was a representative of my credit card provider, while I tried to negotiate a lower interest rate and essentially wasted his time. Probably the most uncomfortable task was standing in the middle of a Tim Hortons lineup surrounded by people and breaking out in dance, exacerbated by the fact that, frankly, I'm not a very good dancer.
But going through all of these experiences, my mind began to wander to how this plays into modern life and how fear of social rejection is changing with the years. Because fear of rejection plays a huge part in Generation Z’s day-to-day, but not in the way it always has been before.
I know some friends, I won’t name them, who will remove a picture from Instagram if it doesn’t get more than a certain amount of likes in the first hour. Social media is literally structured in a way that every time you post into it, you get either affirmed or rejected. It’s structured in a way to make us fear rejection. And, just like I experienced on the phone with Ryan, fear of rejection can be extremely uncomfortable. The result? Gen-Zers spend a ridiculous amount of time selecting what they post, filtering out imperfections, and agonizing over the number of likes/comments/retweets they receive. 77% of teens today think that people are less authentic and real on social media than they are in real life. And the result is a filter on life.
We lose a certain level of vulnerability.
And vulnerability is how human beings bond and build relationships. In a social media world, we put up a front, showing only the best parts of our lives. And so, while it’s easier to message people with social media than it was before, I ask again: does it really connect us?
From my experience in the Rejection Olympics, one of my takeaways was that, afterwards, I was able to hang up the phone, walk out of the shop, or go home. And none of it mattered beyond that. But, unless you delete the apps, that’s not really possible with social media, is it? Gen-Zers receive hundreds of notifications every day and, even if they turn notifications off, it’s still on their mind.
My biggest takeaway, however, was that the fear of rejection, ironically, was actually pushing me farther apart from the people in my life. Because of this assignment, I did many things that lead to me connecting more with other people. I took the time out of my day to buy a new mother and her child a meal at a Timmies, having a discussion after with them and actually bonding with another human being. I also turned an enemy into a friend. And, finally, I re-connected to a friend that I had, for a long time, not been on speaking terms with.
If I could take one thing away from this assignment, it's to take time, at least once a month to assess what I need to be doing that I'm avoiding because subconsciously I'm afraid to put myself out there.
And I believe that to do that, I need to stop relying on social media as a reliable means of communication.
Making yourself vulnerable is what actually connects you with people: acting against the fear of rejection actually builds relationships. So I ask again…
Does social media really connect us?
***On a positive note, trends are showing that Gen-Zers are starting to recognize this and opt for more authentic means of communicating, like trading in Instagram for Snapchat, creating private Instagram accounts for only their close friends that's more depicting of their real life, etc.