As I sit down to write this piece, there are nearly 7,000 photos in the camera roll on my iPhone. Those are the photos, screenshots, and memes I’ve taken or saved in the three years since I learned how cheap iCloud storage really is and invested in a regular backup for my data. Many of the photos I took before that are gone — but not all of them. Several are stored on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, and even Twitter. Social media has been a godsend for not only making memories, but preserving them, and thus my relationship with it is complex.
I’m not in the camp that believes social media is “destroying how society works” — but perhaps that’s because I grew up online, navigating social relationships on Neopets, Livejournal, Xanga, Fanlistings, and eventually MySpace. When my friends began to leave those sites, it was natural for me to follow them and move onto Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
I have always been a few steps behind in migrating from one social platform to the next; in that way, I follow the crowds. Who wants to talk to themselves on social media all day? One thing has remained consistent across every platform where I’ve made an account (or six): some of my longest-lasting, healthiest relationships were born in these spaces. These spaces allow me to not only form and maintain these relationships, but remember the individual moments of them.
Sometimes, social media is a landmine. People spout vitriol onto the web every day, sometimes hiding behind anonymity and sometimes feeling bold enough to attach their real names and faces to their words. I won’t downplay the nastiness of that; nor will I deny that sometimes, seeing reminders of toxic people I’ve since cut out of my life can be incredibly triggering. Navigating these spaces can sometimes be hellacious—but to maintain a healthy relationship with social media, I try to focus on the glass being half-full.
Say what you will about how society is changing because of social media, but I think it can be pretty damn special.
Friends I made in fandom spaces on Livejournal in 2004 are now friends whose work I read in online publications and even published novels. We stay in touch through Twitter likes and Instagram comments, through Tumblr reblogs and Facebook shares. Occasionally, Timehop shows me an interaction with these friends from a decade ago that I forgot about, but am glad to see immortalized.
It’s not just friends. Much of my relationship with my spouse—especially in the early days, when we became friends and then started dating long-distance—took place online. Several social media platforms were integral in how we met, connected, and stayed in touch.
Our years together are marked in Tumblr tags, Facebook albums, and private Pinterest boards. They’re remembered in chat logs I saved in my Tumblr drafts during the early days of our friendship, when I desperately wanted to cling to the warm feelings they gave me. They’re collected in Instagram posts with and without captions, filtered beyond recognition or left untouched, then shared with our followers.
My relationship with my spouse is immortalized in those absurdly silly Facebook videos that the website makes when you hit “friendship milestones”. They’re remembered in old mixtapes stored on the mostly-defunct 8tracks, where we used to hide what we wanted to say behind emo songs and heavily-edited stock photo album covers.
In many ways, social media is a preservation tool, an archivist’s dream: just like a photo album, or a time capsule, but in the palm of your hand. Easily accessible wherever you have an internet-enabled device and a connection. I think it’s true that social media is changing the way we interact with each other—but that’s not entirely bad, the way some headlines make it out to be.
I know very few people my age who hang photos of themselves and their families all over the house like my family does—which feels, to me, like a microscopic version of posting pictures on Instagram.
And while digitizing private information can certainly be dangerous, there’s a freedom in knowing that tidbits of conversations are saved for me to look at whenever I need to be reminded of them, much like they would be if my spouse and I wrote love letters and pasted snippets into journals or photo albums.
Social media hasn’t “destroyed society”. It’s just shifted it, a bit, by making it easier for us to access things from the present as well as from years past: good, bad, and ugly.