At only 20 years old, I find it amusing that I can already say that I remember how different life was when I was younger. I got my first cell phone in ninth grade, and I still remember the days when my family all had a RAZR. 

Flip phones and texting were very much in fashion at the time but once people transitioned over to iPhones and other smartphones, social media, namely Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, took off and essentially became a staple for all students.

Never before have the mere opinions of people carried as much weight as they they do right now, in 2017. Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to every single word that was said on social media, and I wasn’t subjected to the mile-long comment sections on Facebook. Instead, during my free time or lunch time, I would enjoy casual, relaxed conversations with friends without the remote possibility that one of them would be distracted by their phone. As a result, we could speak our mind, deal with situations face-to-face and then go about our day, social-media free.

As a college student in 2017 and with the election of President Donald J. Trump, social media has become more powerful and influential than ever before. It seems as if everyone’s phones are always out, ready to post their reaction to something political. When I was younger, most students that I knew simply didn’t talk about politics because it wasn't a priority. It’s not that we were indifferent to what was happening out in the world or around the country but rather we weren’t constantly bombarded with political rhetoric and news alerts. 

As a result, I think that we were less stressed in that time because we didn’t have social media’s influence in our lives to remind us of all the bad in our world and all the division between people of differing viewpoints. In the occasional instance that we did discuss politics, we would listen regardless of how different our views were. There was never a need to hide from each other’s opinions or to vent on social media because we didn’t have such a capability nor would we have ever thought to do so.

Some of my fondest memories as a child were those that existed not in the digital cloud but in real life. Whether it was time spent with my family or my friends, one thing that remained constant was that I wasn’t consumed by an iPhone and social media. Sure, I still grew up in a world with TV and computers, but I didn’t spend hours a day scrolling through a Facebook feed or seeing what was trending on Twitter because, after all, iPhones didn’t exist until I was 10. 

Even when they came out, social media wasn’t yet that prevalent in students’ lives. Facebook was starting to gain a little bit of attention, but Instagram didn’t even exist until I was 13. If you stop to think about how far we’ve come in terms of our technological advancements, it truly does seem as if life without today’s social media was ages ago but wasn’t so long ago at all.

Now people are often quick to respond to someone else’s opinion, without even allowing the other to finish their point or make their argument. In other words, we simply don’t have the patience to listen anymore. Considering that everything is so instant now, people’s words now have a much greater power because they can affect a greater number of people in a matter of seconds. 

I believe that some of the problems that we face today, in terms of the political and value-based division, are rooted largely in the unhealthy need to respond to everything in some manner, mostly on social media. Our lives shouldn’t revolve around social media as much as they do today because I find that it often amplifies anger, frustration, stress and even hate. 

Once you realize how many people are on social media currently, you can imagine that a huge number of people can possibly react negatively if they interpret one’s opinion a certain way. That’s why social media can be dangerous: it makes it easier for people to vent online which, in turn, makes the negative reactions much more frequent and consequential.

So, while it is important to keep track of what is happening in our nation and throughout the rest of the world, life is much more than social media. We have only so much time to enjoy being young, learn about ourselves and grow up to take on the world. While social media certainly has its benefits, it shouldn’t dominate our lives. Instead of fixating on everyone’s opinions on social media, enjoy the world that exists beyond the digital screen and the memes and instead, as they say up north, fuhgeddaboudit!

Contact opinion writer Alex Rigsby at alexander.rigsby@richmond.edu.