Our Shrinking World: Belonging in the Digital Age 

The world is getting smaller, or so the saying goes. With the rise of technology, we can now travel to the other side of the world in less than a day. And with the rise of phones and social media, we can talk to people on the other side of the globe with the mere click of a button. 

In a world that is getting smaller and smaller by the second, where people are making connections from across the two sides of the globe, why is belonging still something we struggle with? 

I think one thing contributing to our struggle to belong is one of the very things that is shrinking the world: social media. 

Aristotle said that “man is by nature a social animal”. And sure, social media helps us to socialise (it’s in the name) with friends and stay connected, but the very act of being on your phone is a solitary thing. When you’re messaging someone, or swiping through Insta stories, you do so alone. When you like your friend’s TikTok or share that cute puppy picture, it’s still just you and your phone.  

In this technology-dominated world, our sense of social belonging has changed. Once, we felt like we belonged when we were physically with the people we love. But now, we more often than not experience that feeling of belonging by ourselves, behind a screen. We may still be talking to the people we love on our phones, but is our sense of belonging the same? 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a social media hater! I love that apps like Instagram and Snapchat have allowed me to stay in touch with friends and family who I would otherwise have lost contact with long ago. I love seeing what my friends are up to via their Instagram stories and daily BeReal posts (yes, I still use BeReal…). But the sense of belonging that I feel when I’m texting my friends doesn’t compare with how I feel when I’m actually, physically, with them. 

It’s like social media helps us keep a ‘bookmark’ in our friendships. It helps us to stay in touch and experience a ‘lesser’ form of belonging until we can see each other again and experience the real thing.  

Do you have thoughts on the relationship between belonging and social media? How might you represent this relationship in a poem or short work of fiction?  

Don’t forget to submit your work to the 2024 USYD Anthology by 31 July. 

Words by Holly Ford.