Is Individuality Now Shaped by Trends?

Social Media Trends and Its Impact on Individuality

Social Media
The Upside

Social media can be conflicting when it comes to individualism. On one hand it can help people feel empowered and connected, give voice to minorities or taboo issues. It can create a sense of belonging, self-expression, curiosity, or a desire to connect. Social media allows us to stay in touch with geographically dispersed family and friends, communicate with like-minded others around our interests, and join with online communities to advocate for causes we feel passionate about. Social media communities can help break down stigma and stereotypes of illness and encourage people into greater social integration.

The Downside

On the other hand, social media trends tend to create a culture of conformity. ‘Cancel culture’ threatens to rip down your online presence if you go against the social norm, or less drastically, you may be considered ‘uncool’.  When people don’t stay up to date with what’s ‘in,’ they can be quickly categorised as ‘other’. Even in real life, people who wear certain clothing or listen to music that isn’t considered relevant to today’s trends are at higher risk of instant judgement. Rather than choosing what to wear or how to act based on personal preference, people tend to rely upon trends and external perceptions. Consequently, people are left with recycled thoughts and ideas, and nothing original of their own. Social media algorithms increase this risk by recommending the next picture, video, or filter. As a consequence, our, self-identity can be heavily distorted – or even controlled.

How can we Maintain a Sense of Individuality whilst Appreciating Trends and using Social Media?

  • Remember to separate the online world from real life. Following trends online that don’t fuel your real-world happiness may lead to poor mental health and a lack of individuality.
  • Recognise that social media has influenced the way we present ourselves and perceive others. As the information we are exposed to becomes more uniform due to curated ‘for you’ pages, it is critical to develop your beliefs and personality independent of online influences. This can be done by developing a strong sense of self external to social media (establishing your values, morals, self-beliefs, and long-term goals).
  • Question your behaviours around social media use in relation to your self-beliefs, to hold yourself accountable. Does it matter if your interests aren’t trending on social media? Would that stop you from sharing them? Are you posting or behaving in a way that makes you happy, or is trendy? Is engaging in this trend in line with who you are? How might your future self feel about you having engaged in this trend?
  • Using social media wisely and mindfully (e.g., take regular breaks from social media, limit daily use, use mindfulness to be aware of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours stemming from social media use).
  • Individuals may conform to trends on social media due to the dopamine that stems from the ‘social validation feedback loop’ (a small dopamine hit due to someone liking or commenting on a post). Consider other ways to regularly create more natural, longer-term sources of dopamine such as exercise, good sleep, listening to music, meditating, connecting with loved ones, sunlight exposure, etc.

Following trends can be exhausting when we have so much input and access to rapidly changing information, leading to poor mental health and wellbeing. Be aware and respond to your thoughts and feelings as an indication of whether social media is harming your individuality and sense of self. Enjoying trends does not always make you less of an individual. Prioritising trends over your own preferred topics, stories, and means of self-expression, does.

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