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When I really think about it, I am seldom honest on social media. I decided to change that this year. Last month, for the first time, I was completely transparent on the Internet and posted on Facebook a central aspect of my life that I had previously kept hidden: my depression.
Even though I felt vulnerable and exposed, being honest and upfront was cathartic. The support I received was overwhelming, and I was inundated with grateful messages from people who had endured similar struggles, but had never spoken out.
Social media personas are inherently biased, which limits them from portraying the truest aspects of people’s lives. When you scroll through your Instagram feed, whose posts pop up? The Athlete? The Musician? The Party-girl? Maybe all of those and more. But is that the entirety of who these people are?
Freshman Fall I sat in my dorm room scrolling through my various news feeds. On Snapchat, I saw high school friends out celebrating; on Instagram, I saw pictures of groups of smiling girls in pristinely decorated dorm rooms with their new best friends; on Facebook, I saw faces I did not recognize posing in a tight bunch with a high school friend I was now miles apart from. My life-long friends had busy new social lives while I sat in my room on a Friday night, reluctantly scrolling through social media. The average person spends 1.72 hours a day on social media. I see most of my friends more regularly on a screen than in face-to-face interactions.
These on-screen encounters coupled with superficial Thanksgiving break conversations led me to believe that my friends were all loving their freshman fall. It was only through subsequent connections and deeper conversations that I realized the truth behind the façade that social media helps to create.
Social media can be isolating. But it’s also a choice: you don’t have to play along with the digital world’s customs. Sure, I’m still going to post pictures that I think I look good in. But now, I’ll do this with the understanding that this is not an accurate representation of the entirety of who I am. Through my experiences over the last month, I’ve realized that social media can also be used as a way to connect with others. So with this in mind, I recently decided I am also going to start sharing other aspects of my life that I am proud of, regardless of whether or not I believe they will get as many “likes.”
A social media platform, called @halfthestory, aims to shed light on people’s personal struggles and the hidden talents, ideas, and beliefs that we can use to connect us on a deeper level. @halfthestory allows us to share a part of our identity (positive, negative, anything) that is not typically revealed through social media channels. This platform taught me about a friend’s relationship with yoga — something I hadn’t heard about before. Through her social media activities, I never suspected that she was a yogi, but upon reading about this in @halfthestory, I immediately connected her yoga with my interest in meditation which (yep, you guessed it), was spurred by my desire to find solace in my depression. Now we have more frequent and satisfying conversations about the more interesting parts of our lives.
Throughout all of high school and college, I have coached and volunteered for Special Olympics. I had never thought to post an Instagram sharing this aspect of my life. But this weekend, I had a Special Olympics tournament and decided to Instagram some of my team’s cellys (celebrations). A handful of people reached out to me asking about Special Olympics and how they can get involved.
I firmly believe that the aspects that make us unique are what can bond us together and help us form new connections. My peers constantly blow me away. Everyday, I learn about secret talents and passions that are fundamental parts of their lives — talents that are often absent from social media.
Harvard has a diverse student body containing people with distinct personalities and talents. These unique aspects are seldom shown through social media, but are what can lead to the most meaningful connections. So, ask yourself: What would you want people to know about you that you haven’t already shared? Be aware of how you use social media and how it is used by others. Be honest with your friends and yourself.
Sarah Rodriguez '18 is an expected Sociology concentrator living in Leverett House.
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