The role of social media in my life has shifted greatly since I arrived in Spain about a month and a half ago. Before my semester abroad began, both at home in Pennsylvania and at Rutgers, social media meant scrolling through each and every one of my feeds—from Facebook to Snapchat, and everything in-between—when I was bored, whether I was on the bus, a few minutes early to class, or trying (a.k.a. failing) to fall asleep at night. I never paid much attention to it, mostly because the virtual connection to my closest friends was seemingly irrelevant when they all lived down the hall from each other. Of course, there were a few exceptions. Using Facebook to connect with friends from high school, as well as my sisters and the rest of my family while I was away at Rutgers each semester, was important to me. However, more often than not, I found myself opening apps to pass the time when I didn’t know what else to do with myself.
Going abroad for the semester changed the role of social media for me. There are so many positive and negative aspects of websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter while abroad. With a very limited data plan, I can no longer scroll while walking to class or on the metro. However, I have found that this is for the better, as I pay greater attention to my surroundings in those situations. My favorite positive aspect is very obvious—keeping in touch! I love seeing what everyone at home is up to! The keeping up goes both ways, as I can share photos and stories with my friends and family at the click of a button. My family loves to see what I’m up to and where I’m traveling to every weekend, especially when the time change and less-than-perfect Wi-Fi makes it difficult to find convenient times to call.
However, there are numerous negative aspects to social media, especially when abroad. When I begin to feel homesick, or miss something as simple as watching movies with my friends in Brett Hall, I find it dangerously easy to scroll endlessly through newsfeeds and seeing all of the activities I’m “missing out” on. The scrolling leads to more missing/feelings of homesickness which only leads to more scrolling, which in turn leads to more homesickness, a vicious circle that can be difficult to break. In reality, however, it is very easy to get out of the trap that of social media. Whenever I being to feel “too-connected,” I turn off my computer or phone, and get outside. Here in Spain, I usually end up running or biking to the beach and laying out in the sun for a while. Being outside in the fresh air gets my mind off of the 4000 miles that lie between home and me, while simultaneously making me feel more awake and energized.
The new role that social media has in my life, along with all of the positive and negative effects that come with it, can be applicable anywhere. It is too easy to be pulled into the cycle of constantly checking social media, even at home. Spending a multitude of time online can make anyone feel as though they’re missing out on activities, parties, travels, or anything else that can appear in a newsfeed. Additionally, getting off of your phone for those few minutes before class, or on the way to the bus stop, can be refreshing no matter where you are. This summer, when I finally return to New Brunswick and the United States, I plan on bringing some of my new social media habits back with me so I can appreciate my surroundings and the moments of my life as they happen, instead of being concerned with whether I got the perfect video for Snapchat, or if the latest picture I took can be considered Instagram-worthy.