By Vanessa Vivas

Senior theatre arts major Sara Maner, 21, woke up one day to a 21st-century epiphany: Instagram creates body dysmorphia in young adults.

Michael Mathey, 21 also a theater arts major, woke up to a similar realization: he wants to cut off his relationship with social media.

However, senior dance major Libbie Louis, 21, has been learning to appreciate the benefits of social media has for a young artist.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly half of adults say the internet has been essential to them during the coronavirus outbreak and has also provided opportunities that they have never previous considered, according to a Pew Research Center study. However, some of these encounters have been less than perfect.

“I deleted Instagram because it weighed on me. This need to know what everyone is doing at all times. It was making me so anxious to not know what people were doing,” Maner said.

College students are the most likely to say that the internet has been essential during the pandemic, according to the Pew Research study conducted earlier this year. Evidence shows that some people have been using the internet more now than they were before the pandemic started. But while many Americans say the internet has been a good thing for them personally, many believe that it has not been good for society as a whole.

Maner expressed Instagram enabled a minor shopping addiction because she would be bombarded with targeted ads every time she logged on. “Since I deleted it, I’ve stopped buying stuff. I fill the need for Instagram with shows and TV—story content, which is better,” she said.

Maner, like many other college students, has become more aware of her increased screen time and has since made changes to her internet presence: she has deleted her account entirely.

However, Maner still recognizes that the importance of internet presence is exponentially increasing during the pandemic as well, Maner said. “One way to sort of be involved during a pandemic is the internet,” Maner said.

Michael Mathey, 21, a senior theatre arts major at Point Park University has similar sentiments when it comes to the harmful nature of social media apps like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Tik Tok.

“There are so many ways to post on it. You can do IGTV, a story, a post, a reel, a private story… There are so many ways to post it that it becomes overwhelming,” Mathey said.

Mathey was adamant about deleting all of his applications at the beginning of the semester since it would cause distractions during the virtual semester. Mathey said “I found once I had deleted Twitter, I was actually more out of the loop. Not only out of pop culture but also politically… Reliable news agencies that link articles…That’s actually how I found a lot of information,” Mathey said.

As live performances have been canceled indefinitely, young performers are wrestling with the importance of their social media presence.

Libbie Louis, 21, a senior dance major at Point Park University recently posted her professional dance reel on her IGTV. “Three different people were like ‘I’ll hire you’. It’s a very viable option when auditioning and in-person things don’t exist. I could literally find a job on Instagram” Louis said.

She believes that the expectations for performers on social media are changing. “Now it’s less about how many followers you have, and what you look like. It’s more so about the quality of followers you have. And it’s actually about networking. Which is what it should’ve been about from the start,” Louis said.

Eva Linder, 21, senior theatre arts major at Point Park University, is a frequent Tik Tok user and has found a variety of creators and writers on the app. As a creator herself, she finds value in spending time on the app for both work and play. “It’s actually a very creative outlet. There’s a lot of time and effort put into some Tik Toks,” Linder said.

Mathey believes that it’s a powerful tool for exposure and independent projects such as web series, or sketches. “The most beneficial thing you have as an artist in the 21st century. Because now you can reach people ten billion times more than you would have 30 years ago,” he said.

Hayley Oakley, 22, a recent graduate of Point Park University, has barely experienced any change in her social media behaviors. She said that the pandemic presented enough change as it is, and she did not want to adapt to another new situation. “I didn’t want to adapt to lacking something else,” she said.

Oakley believes social media does not primarily affect a person’s wellbeing, but rather a person’s wellbeing affects their social media use. “When people feel bad in their life, they are more likely to get affected… because they don’t feel like they have to compare to anyone else…They only see the good things online, never the bad things,” she said.

As for creating space for artists and for social issues, she thinks that social media is a way to feel connected in a time when everyone feels isolated. “They provide helpful things or tips or humor. Or show other creators that they can do the dang thing,” she said.

Madison Hart, 21, a senior dance major at Point Park University has hopped off the social media train completely. “At this current moment, I just deleted social media. For the past few days… I’ve noticed that my biggest downfalls are comparison and procrastination… social media was just making me feel icky,” she said.

As a dancer, she expressed frustration with the intersection between career and internet presence.  “It is a great way to brand yourself. I’m just not good at it. It’s like Pinterest, it’s fun to create a style, but takes too much time and it’s temporary,” she said.

However, Hart realizes that it is almost impossible to cut off entirely, especially with such monumental movements happening on these platforms. “There were a lot of social justice issues brought about during quarantine, and I did start to see it as a way of gaining information which made me hesitant to delete it,” she said.

Pablo Uribasterra, 21, a Point Park senior, says that his relationship with social media is complicated. “I have phases… I’m more detached than I have been in the years leading up to now, but I’m trying to shift that more towards using that social responsibility,” he said.

Uribasterra expressed that everyone experiences unhealthy habits when it comes to social media, but there is an important conversation happening in these applications. “All the activism stuff that has been brought up this year has changed the dynamic of how I view social media,” he said.

He says he feels a personal responsibility for using his platform to uplift other communities. “I’m figuring out what my voice is, where it fits in, who is being heard right now… I’m trying to be more socially conscious of how I’m using the apps… I want to do good on behalf of other communities,” he said.

Apart from using his platform to spread awareness on social issues, Uribasterra has been honing his internet presence to promote himself as a musical artist. As this year’s Pioneer Records Star, Uribasterra says he is a little less worried about self-marketing. However, he said that he is still largely responsible for self-promoting, “especially because I don’t have a website, it’s where my information is… if nothing else, Instagram is a place to plug my Spotify…my audience grows on social media,” he said.

Instagram, an app that is largely based on appearances, continues to affect young people’s self-confidence. For Sophia Hoiseth it has evolved into a love-hate relationship. Hoiseth, 22, a recent graduate of Minnesota State in Mankato says that she goes back and forth. “I love it more than it loves me. I really like being on it, but then it’s mean to me. It insults me or makes me feel about myself,” she said.

Tik Tok, which is more commonly perceived as a creative outlet, has become a comfortable platform for her. “[Since the pandemic began], I’ve started watching Tik Tok about 150% more. That didn’t happen when I was not at my house all the time. I’m also more likely to create on Tik Tok. It’s a fun thing to do when I’m bored at home,” she said.

In a time where people have to stay physically apart, Hoiseth appreciates the positives that have come from the connections fostered by these platforms. “I think the part of the social internet where I get to communicate with others has been very lovely. Calling friends more regularly than before… that’s been really nice,” she said.

Nick Linell spends most of his social media time on Reddit and Youtube, and still feels an uneasy relationship with the amount of time he commits to the two sites. “It’s an awkward addition… I always want to be on it, but I don’t want to spend time on it,” he said.

Linell, who is 22, and lives in Mankato, MN, has noticed that young people are hyperaware of their internet footprint when it comes to finding jobs. “Stereotypically, all people show their professional best on LinkedIn. But people take into account when they’re posting anywhere— the idea of a potential employer looking at their profile,” he said.

Although he said he did not feel an intersection between a job and his internet presence, he said that it was always a possibility. “If I was really pushing, then I would opt-in my social media, yeah… You can pursue social media to pursue a job,” he said.

Young people are scrambling to balance work, school, friends, and jobs. Social media has now been intertwined with all aspects of students’ lives. Louis recognizes the negative aspects of social media but has decided to continue to keep the applications on her phone: “I’ve allowed myself to have vices this year… it’s okay to want to have a mindless distraction from what’s going on,” she said.