It should come as a surprise to no one that social media apps like TikTok and Instagram cause more harm than good. But these days, it’s impossible to picture a life away from it – and it’s an infinite loop of self-destructive behaviour.
The younger generations, especially Gen Z is the most impacted by the perils of social media – we are the first true generation of Digital Natives. More than 65% of Gen Z use social platforms to communicate, build relationships, shop, get information and check on their friends and family. Our entire lives are wrapped around social media. We have never known a time when the world wasn’t available at the tip of our phone screens – and the negative effects of that on our mental health are very well known. With how fast-paced the world has become, people are now expected to be available 24/7 and it’s definitely taken a toll on us to the point where the entire generation is collectively burning out. But there’s another downside to this that we rarely talk about.
Apart from finding edgy, entertaining content, and a way to connect with people – bite-sized content on Reels and TikTok has also given way to overconsumption. 97% of GenZ say that they now use social media as their top source of shopping inspiration. Most of the products we buy thanks to fleeting social media trends are completely unnecessary and harmful to our environment.
Brands now don’t have to spend millions on traditional advertising, all they need is a good social media manager who knows how to capitalize on trends. In fact, the hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit has upwards of 2.3 billion views on TikTok, and #amazonfinds has more than 6.7 billion views. Although Instagram has since removed it to “simplify user experience”, the app used to have a ‘shopping tab’ which made it extremely easy for brands to sell their products directly through the app and provide a seamless checkout experience.
Since then, Reels have become a major business tool as they allow businesses to showcase their products engagingly and interactively. Because Reels enable brands to show more dimension to their identity than a 2D static, sharing Reels can improve a brand’s likeability and familiarity. To top it off, the increasingly low attention span of the younger generations makes short-form content the perfect opportunity to market yourself.
Just a few years ago, TikTok and Reels content was ‘cringe’ – but people realised the power of algorithms over time. Usership on social media apps skyrocketed during the pandemic. As more people lost their jobs or had to work from home, they started capitalising on their hobbies to start their ‘small businesses’ and there was a visible rise in influencers of all kinds. Fashion especially opened its gates to a wider audience as $700 shein hauls and shopping sprees took over the internet – ultimately ending up in goodwills and landfills. Many like to defend these hauls by adding that there’s no ‘ethical consumption under capitalism’ but that argument only applies to things that are a necessity, not fast fashion.
Shopping, like almost everything we do, is the meeting of deep emotional needs. In times of uncertainty, especially, it restores some control in our lives. But with how easy consumption has become, we fail to see the harm it is causing to us. Apart from its obvious, fundamental impact on the planet’s carrying capacity – it’s also leaving us in more debt than ever. In December last year, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) observed that Indian banks were diverting lending away from the industrial sector towards retail loans as more and more Indians resorted to borrowing for financing consumption needs, from buying houses to smartphones.
It’s very easy to lose yourself in this never-ending cycle of overconsumption because the rest of the world is in shambles and it seems like the least of our worries right now. But it’s building up to something bigger and much worse– and we’re well past the point where we can reverse the impact. Simply because a brand is relatable doesn’t make it any different than the rest. All they are doing is selling us a product – and the sooner we realise that, the better.