Breaking Free from the Algorithm: In Conversation with Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

We are often told that our university experiences will teach us life skills as well as academics. This remains true: whilst reading Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway during my studies, I found myself aligning the behaviours of Clarissa Dalloway with my experiences of social media. Clarissa Dalloway is a socialite and, despite the fact that her fictional life was written seventy-three years before the creation of the first social media site Six Degrees, she compartmentalises herself in the same way we do through our social media profiles.

Woolf’s description of the way she curates her image so that it will ‘never show a sign of all the other sides of her – faults, jealousies, vanities, suspicions’ echoes the way we curate our posts in presentation of the best version of ourselves. We strive for the perfect angle, perfect lighting, perfect location and perfect smile, whilst trying to make it all seem effortless. This phenomenon of ‘curating casualness’ seems to have overtaken the most popular social media platforms – gone are the days where your Instagram feed practically functioned as a second camera roll. Photos that appear to be candidly taken were probably planned, executed, and edited multiple times before they reached their final destination. The latest obsession with disposable film, Polaroids and Instax cameras illustrates the desire to make our photos seem as effortless as possible, all whilst maintaining that perfect image. This illusion takes a toll on the mental health of those comparing their reality to the artificiality of social media feeds, as they perceive themselves as flawed in comparison to standards that are unattainable in their fabricated nature.

As my time with social media progresses, I have felt the benefits dwindling whilst the negatives mount. Although I am most certainly not the first to speak about this, there remains the age-old argument that social media connects us in an innovative, unbeatable way. It is undeniable that this was the original purpose of social media but as the platforms have grown more popular, social media has become warped into a monster of unnatural standards. Rather than allowing people to connect authentically, the most popular platforms are now spaces to present our most inauthentic and perfected selves.

Besides, should we really be constantly connected? Although the human species is inherently social, it is equally important that we set aside some alone time for reflection and self-regulation. Through learning to balance my use of social media with my time spent offline, I have found a myriad of benefits: room for other past-times, better sleep, and a calmer mind.

In our ever changing, busy world it seems that social media is here to stay. The platforms have firmly rooted themselves within our economies, politics, and lifestyles; even our professional experiences are curated through platforms such as LinkedIn. With social media secured as a facet of the human experience (for those with the privilege of internet access), it becomes ever more important that we reclaim our identities: you are not defined by your online presence.

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