By Abby N. Virio, Staff Writer


“But everybody’s doing it”—it is the excuse of adolescence! Whether referring to sex, drugs, binge-drinking, as the DARE officer piously warned us, or to something as benign as spending irresponsible amounts of money on prom attire, this phrase has been the motivation behind many teenage decisions, shouted at mom and dad or lingering below the consciousness.  It does not take a social psychologist to tell you that group mentality and comparison to others is a part of who we are. Indeed, in many cases, conforming to others’ attitudes helps us align with society’s social standards and navigate our way through educational and professional environments. Regardless, it is best that the burning desire to emulate one’s peers should be left behind, like UGG boots or your MySpace account, safely in 2008. The college years should be years of individualism, self-improvement, and defining your personal mode de vie, no?

Yet over the long, luxurious lull of summer break *cue sarcasm* I was afforded the opportunity to catch up with a few high school friends—young adults in their early to mid-twenties—and I heard these very words spill out of their well-glossed lips. And while I hear it less often on UMSL’s campus, where a socioeconomically and culturally diverse student body meshes, my ears have become hypersensitive to the other ways “everybody’s doing it”—and its equally loathsome counterpart “nobody is doing it”—are still invading our lives.

Do you recognize any of these statements?

“Don’t worry about it, nobody recycles.” “Everyone is getting a new car this year.” “Nobody goes to that anyway.” “Everybody cheats once or twice.” “Nobody gets a job in that field.” “Everyone shops at X.” “Everyone is in a relationship this summer except me.”

Truly, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are the greatest tools for comparison these days. I have heard friends use such generalizing statements to justify expensive purchases, change majors, cheat on a significant other, or skip classes or assignments. I have even heard students use generalizing statements about what their friends do or have as arguments in classroom discussions.

“Yeah, like all my friends on Facebook are voting for Donald Trump.”

Unless “all your friends on Facebook” are literally just your conservative grandma in the boonies, this is illogical.

Right now, I have 674 friends on Facebook – and I am not trying to brag – but only three of them are cats. Anyway, say that ten of my friends are regularly posting pro-Trump articles. Up to twenty of my friends regularly like these posts. That puts the number of my friends who I can reasonably deduce would like to vote for Trump at thirty. 30/674 is 0.0445, or roughly 4.5 percent. This is not even considering how many of them are registered voters or will actually go out and vote on election day. While I cannot make assumptions about the other 95.5 percent, who could very well be Trump-voters in a tragic world-on-fire, my line of reasoning was skewed by posts that are highly visible.

Take travel. Many of us encounter the turquoise-sea-sandy-sunset photo shared by our Instagram friends, which leave us sullen and dejected as we reflect on how uneventful and unimpressive our lives are. Before you are tempted to say “All my friends on Facebook are taking incredible vacations, why am I the only person not traveling?” do some five-second math. Five of your friends are studying abroad. Fifteen have posted about trips abroad. 20/674 is 0.0297, or roughly 3 percent. Maybe it is not so bad you stayed home to work and pay off your student loans this summer.

My point? It may be important to consider social norms when making decisions, especially if you are traveling abroad or interacting with individuals from a different culture. However, constantly comparing what you have or do not have, do or do not do, to your peers is a recipe for disaster. What we see on social media, or simply displayed for us day to day by the people we know, are snapshots of a life we could not presume to understand. When you think about it, these snapshots only account for a tiny minority of life. Being careful about the generalizations we make can lead us to asking the real question—what do I actually want to do/have in my life?