I was an awkward fourteen-year-old.
When I was that tender age, I didn't quite understand what type of bathing suits flattered a scrawny body, which appeared to be approximately 75 percent leg, and what colors might downplay a skin color that resembled the complexion of Casper the Friendly Ghost. I also didn't seem to realize that I was not, in fact, Taylor Swift, and therefore could not pull off the sparkly shift dress/cowgirl boots combo.
The horror of these images of my younger self is fresh in my mind nearly four years later. I recoil at the thoughts, images and actions I posted on Facebook nearly three years ago, all of which are instantly available to me and 700 of my closest friends through a few clicks and scrolls down my timeline on Facebook. Ah yes, shame and self-resentment due to catalogs of images and posts from an embarrassing yesteryear--one of the joys of modern technology.
Social media has tied us inextricably to every thought and action we have ever expressed online--just ask any teacher who has likely warned their students of the potential dangers of social media, of future college recruiters who might find raunchy or otherwise offensive material online and deny them admission to a college because of it.
But I have observed a less serious yet perhaps more embarrassing downside to social media--the image it projects to my peers. Each and every one of my Facebook friends has access to every bad haircut or embarrassingly misquoted Jason Derulo lyric I have ever set as my Facebook status. Worst of all, a heavily edited photo of my friends and me at the Jersey Shore in the summer of my freshman year greets anyone who has happened to find the first photo on my Facebook page--a task, in my opinion, far too easily accomplished with a single click backwards from my most recent photo. I sometimes feel enslaved to the statuses and photos I posted two-plus years ago, not because I fear losing a job or a place in the class of 2018, but because I fear what message about myself I send to my new classmates through my Facebook page. Am I overestimating how critical my classmates will be? Probably. But that does not stop me from agonizing over what classmates might think of photos of a younger one--after all, these are the people with whom I will spend what I'm told are the most important four years of my life, the people who might, in the future, help me land a job or an internship (read: an invitation to a fraternity party).
The permanence of social media has made it harder to partake in that classic post-high school phenomenon--"reinventing oneself" before going off to college. With the addition of Twitter and Instagram to the set of almost-necessary social media sites, a group that once just included Facebook, our online profiles are becoming more and more detailed and harder to manage. Sure, hiding one's past on may be as easy as deleting any unsightly photos or humiliating statuses, but that can be excruciatingly time-consuming. Even more significantly, it seems that we paradoxically want those old photos and posts, letting nostalgia take over when scrolling through pictures of an eighth-grade formal or a family vacation during freshman year. Whatever the reason, be it nostalgia or the fear that we will one day need those photos for a high school reunion or wedding gift, it's the same reason I don't delete Timehop, an app that serves as a social media time capsule, and why I can't bring myself to delete the embarrassing posts I made three years ago, however much I physically cringe every time I see them. It appears that doing a social-media 180 before going off to college is nearly impossible for anyone with a Facebook--pictures and statuses by one's past self essentially make one's present self. In short, your past isn't your past anymore.
I openly acknowledge that this predicament might be the epitome of a "first-world problem," but it is one that I have nonetheless experienced. And perhaps my confession to readers that I once informed all of my Facebook friends I cried during Taylor Swift's episode of 60 Minutes is not the best idea if I want my online presence to emulate "graceful" and "cool"--or even "emotionally stable." But nostalgia and the hope that I will one day become comfortable with my embarrassing fourteen-year-old self keep me from hitting that status' Delete button. And when I step onto campus as a student for the first time this fall, my classmates will have to judge me based on me--and a record of all my social events from the past four years. The permanence of social media is affecting how we form opinions of each other. Our lives are now an open book, and anyone you meet from now on has a free copy of it.
Mary Ziemba is a Trinity freshman. Her biweekly column will resume in the Fall.