Being born on the Gen-Z / Millennial cusp is an affliction suffered by the generational outliers that are too old to Renegade on TikTok yet too young to have blogged on MySpace.
Most commonly attached to '95-'97 babies, at 23 years of age I - in true Zillenial form - have spent a little over a decade of my life online, observing the shifting landscape of the internet and the knock-on effects on society... honestly, my thumbs hurt from scrolling.
Thirty years ago - on June 17, 1991 - the first internet service provider in Ireland connected the country to the online world through a shared telecommunications line at Trinity College Dublin, and it’s been transforming the way we think, communicate and exist ever since.
At this time I was barely a twinkle in my mother’s eye, but 20 years later my frenzied 13 year old self was logging onto Facebook and Twitter. I can still hear the dissonant cries of the dial up internet in the farthest corners of my mind.
These social media platforms were used to organise trips to teen discos, post ‘honest opinions’ and blurt out your innermost ramblings to those you had just said goodbye to at the school gates. We gave fleeting thoughts a permanence we didn’t understand with every Tweet, comment and status update, using these platforms as our own personal playground that existed only for us.
Did we even consider that our relatives could see our incessant ‘shift or pass’ posts? I perish the thought.
Adolescence is a constant source of embarrassment for every generation. Who among us hasn’t looked back and cringed at their teenage self at one point or another? Now that memories don’t just exist inside our heads, but regularly pop up in the form of notifications, we’re constantly being confronted by the blatherings of our former selves.
Digital culture and society at large have evolved hand in hand, becoming an entirely different beast to that which we unwittingly entered into all those years ago.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen the emergence of influencers change the face of celebrity culture, the algorithmic timeline put paid to the concept of time, and the feigning of a flawless life become the norm - but we became wise to these ill effects relatively early on.
Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology series Black Mirror examines the capacities and perils of technology, perhaps most soberingly illustrated in 2016’s Nosedive. In a society that revolves around a positive projection of life and a cut-throat rating system, we see the gradual unravelling of a woman whose hunger for approval outweighs all rationality.
Wasn’t it only last year that Instagram hid the amount of likes on posts to create a less pressured environment?
As we all know that internet trolls, keyboard warriors, and ne’er do wells have felt the urge to humiliate and hurt others with the screen as their shield since day one. Ambiguous usernames and the guise of anonymity enabled cyber bullying to a massive degree and with the loosening definition of what it means to be a celebrity, people feel justified to critique and castigate normal human beings who have managed to amass a following.
Cancel culture has allowed for trial by social media without the defence of context or compassion, and while it’s crucial for those at fault to be held accountable, hypocrisy and virtue signalling help no one.
They say that in every negative, there’s a positive and social media undoubtedly has its benefits. Constantly evolving and taking on new shapes with changes and progressions in society, our online platforms have become invaluable educational resources that amplify voices and provide alternative insights otherwise unheard of in mainstream media.
Every time we pick up our phones we have the ability to learn about lives lived by others that were previously unimaginable to us, to find solace in stories that help us not to feel so alone, and to broaden our minds and grow as individuals so that society can continue to evolve. Oh, and let’s not forget - dank memes.
Over the past year of lockdowns, a humanity has returned to social media that has been lacking for far too long. Colour-coded Instagram grids have been interrupted by photo dumps that offer a glimpse into imperfectly perfect lives, the body positivity movement is extending to each and every body type, and previously jam-packed ‘day in the life’ vlogs have begun to encompass mindfulness and time for reflection.
Instead of idolising a dream life, relatability has become the order of the day. While the failings, filters and general fakeness of social media cannot be ignored, its impact cannot be denied.
An impact that is seen in every industry and has been felt more than ever during the pandemic, having an online presence has become an essential. According to DataReportal, 4.51 million of Ireland’s 4.96 million population are internet users, 3.79 million of which are social media users.
With online booking systems becoming the norm, brands requiring an online persona, and more and more people choosing to share their lives online, is an entirely offline life even possible in 2021?
Anyway, back to scrolling!
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.