I’ve never thought so much about appearances until I became a college student. When I say appearances, I don’t necessarily mean what I see when I look in the mirror. I’m talking about the image I project to the world.

As my friends dispersed to different colleges across the country, social media became a means to keep track of everyone’s rapidly evolving lives. It was an effortless way to maintain some connection even if my friends and I weren’t directly communicating. I suppose the word “effortless” should be alarming in itself; can an authentic relationship really be maintained if it’s effortless? Probably not. Nonetheless, social media and group chats were a way to keep tabs on people’s new friends and experiences, and I suppose, by association, to vaguely gauge their happiness. Through social media,the entire universe can see what’s going on with us. With so many extra eyes, added pressure emerges—particularly as a first semester freshman—to prove that you’re having fun at school, making best friends, adjusting easily and generally succeeding in all endeavors possible.

The superficiality of social media is a defining social issue of our time. We already understand its effects can be damaging; this has become clear as we watch the prevalence of mental health illnesses climb. As a friend of mine recently articulated in a blog post, the experiences of college students are becoming less genuine and authentic, which correlates with increased anxiety. I fear that people minimize the value of maintaining genuine and authentic relationships, too.

When life is good, the way we perceive our experiences aligns with what we market on social media. But when life gets messy, a disparity emerges between how we feel and how we portray ourselves. The most dreary moment can be transformed to look astonishingly vibrant. Our lowest moments lurk within the privacy of our minds, yet it’s difficult to avoid drawing comparisons as we peruse endless highlight reels. A selective filter constantly exists because people only display their peaks. Who would willingly show pain? Still, this is easy to forget and does not come without a cost. Accounts like that of the Penn runner Madison Holleran and stories recounted in the film, "Not Alone," explore the correlation between a constantly connected world and feelings of isolation. We hear stories like this each day.

Now that this fabricated world exists, I don’t think it can be diminished. We are deeply entrapped in a web of connection and awareness. While I could deactivate my Facebook and retreat from this virtual world, that world will continue to exist and evolve without me. If I made that choice, a nagging feeling would still exist that I’m losing an opportunity to keep up with my world.

I feel grateful to at least have grown up before this world fully emerged. The rise of social media occurred in my late teenage years, when I had already formed real relationships and felt comfortable in my ability to do so. Throughout my high school years, Instagram and Snapchat were introduced, but I can at least remember a time when these phenomena were irrelevant. I can distinguish the difference between establishing legitimate connections and utilizing social media to simulate a false sense of connection. This game isn’t all I know.

My youngest sister is 11 years old: a sixth grader. Two years ago, my parents avoided giving her a phone of her own. They eventually caved after she continued to express feeling left out. First, they tried limiting her access: no phone after dinnertime. I’ve watched this resilience erode. Their individual stand on the matter wouldn’t do much anyway, in the scheme of things.

It pains me to watch her glued to her phone. Girls at that age are petty and manipulative. But when I was in sixth grade, girls had to be petty and manipulative the good old-fashioned way, with face-to-face interactions. Middle school immaturity partnered with social media is an ugly and vicious animal. When my sister talks about drama, she discusses people left out of iMessage group chats. She worries about how many minutes passed after she sent a text before receiving a response. She tells me that a friend ignored her message but liked her Instagram, anguishing over what that means. An increased capacity for manipulation and exclusion lies in the hands of young people who haven’t formed solid judgment yet. Even worse, kids this young lack the ability to put this behavior in perspective. They don’t understand that likes aren’t real validation or that being mean is a phase that can be outgrown. For them, everything hurts the same.

The stresses and worries she confides to me are painful to hear from someone so small. She’s exposed to a kind of social angst I wasn’t forced to deal with until I was older and arguably better equipped (although still not ideally equipped). She doesn’t know there’s an option to form friendships not supplemented by technology. This is not her fault; it’s simply the world in which she lives. She and I are members of the same generation, but our lives are already so different. Older people always say they fear what’s coming for our generation, but I fear even more for what’s coming for those younger than me.

I wish this world had never plagued my sister. I wish it could cut her some slack. I wish it could at least give her time to grow up and become her own person before overtaking her.

Technology will always continue to evolve, but its ramifications now target a much younger and broader audience. The easier it becomes to create a façade of distorted reality, the less pressed people feel to pursue intimate connections. If we don’t maintain perspective on both our own and others’ highlight reels,we, too, will find ourselves suffocated by a social web we helped to create.

Carly Stern is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Fridays.