I once read an interview with British singer Mika, where he said something like:
‘If the internet had been around when I was younger, I would have gotten laid a lot more’.
That’s when I knew that the internet was redefining youth culture.
The truth is, our online lives accelerated faster than mainstream media could keep up.
Disney Channel sitcoms portrayed teen culture without a mention of the internet. It felt like there was a gaping hole when characters didn’t squeal over a ‘like' from a crush or reference a photo they’d been tagged in. High School Musical was released in 2006. Where was Sharpay's YouTube channel with show tune covers filmed through a webcam? Gabriella’s MySpace page? Seeing teen culture portrayed without the internet only emphasised the starring role it had taken in my life.
As early as 13, I was vividly conscious of the extent to which I was documenting my life online. I would plan a Facebook status in my head, witty captions emerging as I snapped away on my digital camera. Family holidays and friends birthday parties became content generation opportunities. The thought of coming home and logging onto the family computer to work on my Piczo site (largely devoted to My Chemical Romance) filled me with utter glee. Over a decade later, I struggle to remember anything during my teen years that made me feel part of a community like being online did.
I was the content manager and producer of my teenage life, acquiring a taste for the dopamine hit of the little red notification number.
As my teens rounded off and I outgrew my old fandom haunts, the time came to start A Blog. My idols were documenting their lives online, and I would too. Back then the internet seemed like a level playing field no matter who you were. But as we know now, not all content is created equal and churning out digital media is rarely as off-the-cuff as it seems.
The Blog came before Instagram. A fashion blog. But like, actual write-300-words-about-an-outfit type blogging. Not the glossy #spon photos in Instagram feeds of today. These were grainy self-timer outfits shot in bad bedroom lighting after college. I now look back on that as an innocent time for blogging. There was an ease to publishing a post without strategy. A simplicity that's been replaced with ad declarations and monetisation.
Before I left home for university, I installed a new app: Instagram.
Fast forward 18 months and people would rather double-tap a photo of my outfit on Instagram than read a detailed spiel I’d taken time to craft. I berated the app but noticed the same attention deficiency in myself. The internet had changed rhythm.
THE ALGOR-HYTHM (PRESENT)
And so a new dance had collectively begun. The moves were memes, engagement rates, ring lights. But there were lurking shadows too - fake news, data infringement, deterioration of mental health.
As I started in the professional world, this new era came with new expectations. Until that point, the internet had been my playground. It was a source of fun with no rules. Yet suddenly our profiles were supposed to be professional storefronts. We were warned of employers vetting our online presence, a practice which seems somewhat unfair (unless of course you’re a bigot).
With this new expectation, I justified my prolific internet use as building ‘my brand’. It was networking. A virtual portfolio, I told myself. And yes, my blog has impressed job interviewers, but along the way, my intention had become clouded.
I found myself consumed with the pursuit of what I deemed online success; a pristinely coordinated Instagram feed, masses of followers, paid sponsorships and likes. I was so swept up in chasing aesthetic milestones that I didn't stop to realise how it felt.
It took therapy and a lot of inner work to realise I was after validation. Validation that I could not only give myself, but validation my IRL life could give me too.
And now? I understand that these platforms have been engineered to keep me hooked. I understand that they can be valuable conduits for creativity, but it’s my responsibility to ensure I’m using them in a meaningful and intentional way. It’s an ongoing process around validation, but I’m much happier with the rhythm I'm in online.
THE CLOUD (FUTURE)
Life online is full of paradoxes. It’s vast yet it feels like a community. Its newness feels like home. We can share something with 798 followers and still feel alone. It destroys trends as fast as it creates new ones.
Looking ahead, it’s hard to tell how the next online shift will look. I know what I’d like to see:
I’d like to see less of a focus on numbers of likes or followers, and more on quality of connections. Online relationships share a key fundamental as our IRL ones - they require nurturing.
I’d like to see people given room to live out professional and personal lives online.
I'd like to see more transparency - from publishers, creators and platforms.
I’d like to see younger generations learning from our mistakes; accompanying selfies with real self-love and not confusing virtual ‘likes' with genuine connection.
Whatever lies ahead, I hope The Internet continues to be a space that fosters community and creativity. I hope it evolves into a safe place that everyone can call home.
Name: Sinéad Khan
Occupation: Marketing Executive & International Woman of Mystery
@ name: @sinead_khan / @findingyourfabuleuse
First time online: Age 7