Where Do We Go From Here?

An Empty Broad Street. Source: Philly Mag

As our atypical, disrupted semester comes to close, it’s hard to believe a mere four months ago the world of social media looked drastically different. COVID-19 has altered every aspect of our lives, and our online habits are no exception. With platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram becoming our only means to connect with others in the time of social distancing, the way we use these apps has changed, possibly forever. I began to think of how our relationship with social media will evolve throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The role of social media at the origin of Coronavirus was centered around information dissemination. This included troll posts that were categorized as “fake news”, but included important reports from doctors in Wuhan attempting to raise awareness around how serious the virus was. As the virus spread globally, social media took on a new role as an emotional outlet. This can be categorized in a positive way, since people are leaning on their social networks to gain a sense of community and belonging in a digital manner. Social media has also been a collective outlet for coping with humor through shared memes. Memes have always played an important role in social media, but now they are guiding us in uncharted territory. One meme account @adam.the.creator stated, “I don’t think it’s telling a funny joke about a deadly disease—you’re telling a joke about dealing with a deadly disease. Humor is helping us get through this. It’s about keying in on the common threads that all we have in our new lives.” It’s fascinating to see how these memes have changed from February 2020 to April 2020, just as the virus has. Social media has also been used as a tool. People have even been tracking posts to trace the timeline of the pandemic, as well as mining social media to anticipate how the disease may spread.

Early meme about Coronavirus, February 2020
Mid-March Coronavirus Meme

In an article from Insider, the author explores how “Coronavirus is the cultural moment, and essentially the default context for all memes or viral events.” Even though posts are becoming less directly related to COVID-19, all memes are still related to it. This goes for Instagram throwbacks, TikTok challenges, and Facebook posts – it all circles back to the larger issue at hand. The article summarizes, “In short, the memes show something that many of us likely feel to some degree: people are starting to adjust to this new normal, even though the world is still in crisis.

April 2020 meme from quentin.quarantino. Courtesy of Forbes.

Social media has played an enormous role in establishing this “new normal”. Since people are unable to resume their daily routines, many are taking to social media to share “life hacks” or ways they’re adjusting to “life in quarantine”. For some, this is as simple as sharing little updates on what they’re eating, how their kids are doing, or what innovative activity they’re partaking in. Apple was able to put a spotlight on this creativity by creating an ad about how people everywhere from John Krasinski’s new news network to ordinary people virtually sharing cupcakes – all while using their Apple products. The end message is simple – creativity, and life, goes on.

It’s probably too early to speculate what lasting impacts the pandemic will have on our social media habits. Will we transition back to keeping more of our lives “offline” when we return to normal? Or, will we carry these new quarantine habits with us, needing social validation through likes and comments more than ever? Until then, I’ll see you all from a (social) distance.

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Finding the Silver Lining

I am lucky to be employed right now, but my job has turned into an endless stream of virtual meetings punctuated by other calls. I sit in the same uncomfortable chair for hours at a time, oftentimes forgetting what day it is and if I told the same story to my team in last week’s check in meeting. I’ve been working remotely for six weeks now, and I’m starting to feel weary. Last week, after one particularly frustrating email exchange, I vowed to seek out some positives.

As we continue upon this socially distant and remote landscape, it feels like we’re just sitting on the sidelines and watching as terrible things happen to our loved ones and our communities. This enforced slowdown has given us all more than just a moment to see the effects of a global pandemic. In what feels like an endless stream of sobering, negative, and downright absurd political media, it can feel selfish to focus on something else, or take a break completely from the news. With all this time to ourselves, however, it’s almost necessary to seek out positives in order to maintain stable emotional health.

The following is a round up of internet items that made me feel happy over the last several days, in the hopes that it makes someone smile :-)!

Cover for The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos
Episode 9 of The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

The world’s greatest expert on canned TV laugh tracks helps Dr. Laurie Santos demonstrate how the emotions of those around us can make us feel happier or more sad. If happiness is so contagious… can we use them to bring joy to ourselves and our loved ones?

The Happiness Lab
corona virus, pollution, silver lining, covid-19
Image Courtesy of NASA Earth

Studies show that air pollution has gone down significantly, with the forced shutdown of major industries causing nitrogen dioxide emissions to decline. While this may only be temporary, there could be some lasting benefits, as the things we’ve taken advantage of (aka the environment) have now become the things we value and want to conserve.

coronavirus good news
Image Courtesy of Gary Hershorn

A perfect rainbow graced NYC, one of the hardest-hit areas, with its presence on Easter Monday. How perfect is that?!

Image Courtesy of Na Snidvongs

Talented artists such as our very own classmate Na are donating the proceeds of their work to COVID-19 relief efforts.

My dog becomes an Instagram model!
Everyone Hugs GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Image Courtesy of GIPHY

I hope everyone has some good sources of happiness to sustain them through this next unknown phase of social distancing. Sending virtual hugs. 🙂

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Penn Relays Goes Digital!!…?

Minecraft Penn Relays – April 24, 2020

On Friday, April 24th from 12PM to 5PM, over ten thousand people tuned in for the first-ever digital Penn Relays event hosted in partnership with gaming company Gen.G. And while it wasn’t the typical three days of constant races and a vibrant carnival atmosphere at Franklin Field, it was certainly one to remember.

Before COVID-19 foiled any chance for the 126th consecutive running of the Relays, there were plans for an e-sport element to happen in conjunction with the races. So when it became clear that number 126 was a no-go, Executive Director of the Penn Relays, Scott Ward, set bigger plans into motion.

College Hall – Image Courtesy of Andrew Guo

Andrew Guo and fellow students got to work creating “Penncraft” after Penn began to take social distancing measures due to the Coronavirus. It was only a matter of time before there was a Minecraft version of Franklin Field, and the Digital Relays came to life.

Using Minecraft’s feature that allows users to create a universe, Gen.G created the famous Franklin Field that will feature a few custom-built courses. Instead of the usual hurdles and steeples, users will now have to speedrun (the term for running in the gaming world) around lava and ice barriers. Team competitions will take place on individual runs and the total time will be collected from all participating members.

Andrew Dawson for Runner’s World

While the digital competition was a success, there’s an entire community of runners and spectators who will be rearing to go on the last Thursday in April next year. The oldest and largest track and field meet in the world can’t be replaced by a video game. But I’m hoping that the collaboration with Gen.G exposed a new generation of young gamers to the history and tradition of The Penn Relays.

Image Courtesy of Penn Athletics

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Love in the time of cholera coronavirus

From viral Tweets about social-distanced first dates, to Facebook’s launch of virtual dates, I find myself wondering if the dating world will be impacted forever.

A few weeks ago I came across a Twitter thread of an NYC resident who had spotted a woman from his window. It was your typical love story. Boy sees girl dancing on rooftop, makes a sign from his window to get attention, and eventually goes on a date with her from inside a plastic bubble.

What a time to be alive, huh?

I went about my day, wondering if this was a true story or if it had been created for the sheer purpose of going viral. These are the times we live in, where creating content is king, regardless of how honest a creator might be to the public about its origins.

This story did get me thinking, however, about the dating scene. Even when social distancing ends, there are discussions happening about the death of the handshake. How is intimacy (especially with a new acquaintance) going to look in the future?

These digital natives, who through online apps have enjoyed a freedom to manage their social lives and romantic entanglements that previous generations lacked—swiping left or right, ghosting a bore, scheduling a late-night hookup—now find themselves unable to exercise that independence. 

Eliana Dockterman, TIME

We are social creatures by nature – friends and coworkers have found creative ways through FaceTime and Zoom to hold happy hours and celebrate birthdays. It seems that when it comes to dating, we are no different. For example, the dating apps Bumble and Hinge have reported over 20% increase in messaging across major cities since the day WHO labeled COVID-19 a global pandemic; they have also seen an increase in the length of conversations, or “quality chats” as they’re being labeled. Studies show a longer courting period translates to a more stable marriage. So while being in quarantine might lead to more couples separating, it might also lead to a boom in weddings.

Facebook sees a way to grow Facebook Dating

In 2019, Facebook introduced its Facebook Dating feature, which allows you to create a profile separate from your Facebook account but uses your interests, likes, and commonalities to recommend potential matches. Last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the service will allow users to go on “virtual dates” through a video feature that will integrate with Messenger. They are not the first, as many dating apps have been offering voice and video features before the pandemic.

Facebook is the first of the social media platform “giants” to announce new or expanded technology as a direct result of COVID-19. I doubt they will be the last. As someone who is married, I look forward to seeing how platforms provide “dating” opportunities for those of us not looking for new love, but still have interest in keeping their romantic relationships exciting.

I’d love to know your thoughts. How do you see the dating scene being impacted in a post-quarantine world? Let me know in the comments below.

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Determining public opinion

“We are all in this together against an invisible enemy”. Somehow this does not seem right when there are protests across the country against the Coronavirus restrictions. While some people are not leaving their home at all, some people live their life as if nothing happened. Why can the believes about a public cause differ so strongly from each other?

There are some factors that certainly influence this:

Social circle

“You’re The Average Of The Five People You Spend The Most Time With” the motivational speaker Jim Rohn once famously said. Psychologists agree that our social circle and our network has an important influence on our opinion. We trust our friends and family a lot and when interacting with them, we exchange our opinions. The sum of those people feel about a topic will most likely result in our own believes in some topics. Whether a person will wear a mask can be attributed to whether their friends are wearing masks.

Media consumption

Which channel people listen to will also be an important factor for their believes about certain topics. Their source of media is the information they are confronted with regularly and they process it based on this. It will also determine how often they think about a topic and whether to think about it at all. Consider thinking about the difference in opinion on someone who watches mainly CNN vs someone who watches mainly Fox News.
The trust in media depends also very much on age. According to research of Edelman, young people rely evenly on social media and mainstream media while older people (55 +) rate mainstream media as 3 times more reliable than social media. Media consumption and age are very relevant for the audience and their conceived opinion.

Trusted source of opinion leaders

According to research of Edelman, scientists belong to the most trusted officials with scores ranging from 68 percent to 83 percent. At the very low of the rank are government officials and journalists with scores under 50 percent. Which spokesperson people trust will strongly influence their opinion. But also celebrities and influencer can play an important role for determining opinions.

The power of repetition

The so-called truth effect was first studied at Villanova University and Temple University. When truth is assessed people rely on whether the information is in line with their understanding or if it feels familiar. Repetition usually makes statements easier to process relative to unrepeated statements, leading people to believe that the repeated conclusion is more truthful. The more often we see something in our news feed, the more likely we are to think that it’s true – even if we were sceptical at first.

All those factors have a certain influence on the public perception. It is very hard to accurately predict how strong their role is as it seems very unrealistic to single out one factor and I have not found any research about that. What is your opinion? Have I forgotten some important factors you believe are also very influential for public opinion?

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The “Live or Die” Decisions for Seniors During A Global Pandemic

  The intensity and stress level on health and social workers have reached an all-time high. Not only because they are in the front line, physically fighting virus and be closely exposed to the virus while treating people. But more importantly, develop serious trauma mentally, instructed to make live or die decisions for their senior patients. Someplace more directly, senior citizens were “offered” to sign an agreement of letting treatment chances to go for the younger sick instead. Social media also becomes an express channel for senior and health workers to describe the cruel side at this time.

In Spain, patients that are age 65+ must have their ventilator removed for the younger people. Medical workers have been in tears and mental meltdown, they can’t believe as someone who is supposed to save lives, now are making decisions for one of the most vulnerable groups in this pandemic to die. This reminds me of the Hofling et al experiment. It was an experience to ask nurses to deliver a deadly dosage of medicine to a patient from an unknown source. 0 out of 21 student nurses would not administer the drug that was obviously and dangerously excessive dose to a patient. Here, pulling out the ventilator serves the same as obvious and dangerous action to do. So, what changed the medical workers’ response nowadays? Is it because this was a hard order and authorized by the hospital policy? But also led me to think of how powerful social media platform is, it allows ordinary people to voice out their plight from anywhere in the world.

A similar thing happens in the UK as well. After promoting the idea of “herd immunity” strategy. Age UK and other age sector organizations in an open letter posted on April 7th revealed the cases of senior residences asked to sign forms on giving up CPR if they are found having symptoms (Age UK). A lady from senior home posted a video expressing her disappointment on treatment by others at this pandemic time. She says she’s willing to give more chances to young people but having this agreement handed to her makes her feel her life is not valuable and it is very sad.

So why senior citizens “less favorable” to save in this pandemic? At least social media allows this to be spoken out and allows more attention and practical responses to these unseen sector in our society.

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Telling Stories: A Personal Reflection

As we near the end of the semester and our class, I thought I would share my own reflections on a topic that we covered previously on my own storytelling experience and journey.

The Republic of Singapore Navy has traditionally produced a commercial every few years or so as part of our recruitment campaign. Whilst the early commercials were largely recruitment-focused, we moved towards producing commercials that sought to inform the general public about what the Navy does (similar to a corporate video). This was in response to a common feedback that while most people knew about the existence of the Navy, they did not quite know exactly what it is that the Navy does. An example of this ‘revamped’ recruitment video is shown below.

The ‘Our Everyday is Defending Yours’ commercial sought to show how the Navy is closely intertwined with the everyday lives of Singaporeans, in ways that people may not often realize. This was done with a technique known as cross-cutting where alternate scenes were matched between a ‘civilian’ scene with a ‘military’ setting.

When it came for us to produce a new commercial in 2018 however, my team decided that we would take a different approach to telling the Navy’s story. Having already produced two commercials that portrayed the ‘corporate’ image of the Navy, we felt that it was now necessary to tell the stories of the people within the Navy, to add a personal touch to the organization. This, we felt, would allow the viewer to relate to the personal stories that we told and that resonance, in turn, would encourage and motivate the viewer to consider a career with the Navy. We decided to roll out four stories, each representing a specific career scheme within the Navy. The challenge that we subsequently faced was to ensure that the four stories would be accurately representative of the kinds of qualities that we wanted to see in our prospective recruits, and cover a broad enough spectrum of narratives to counter and debunk some of the myths and misconceptions that people might have. We reached out to the larger Navy, casting as wide a net as possible to elicit some of these stories from the ground. We then shortlisted the stories to a more manageable number before conducting further in-depth interviews to get a better sense of the details. From there, we narrowed it down to four stories, and started the process of storyboarding and film production. The process of storyboarding was not easy because of the fact that we had to ‘squeeze’ as much as possible within a 60-second window. We wanted to keep the videos short, so that they could be pushed out on various social media platforms, as well as on traditional media. As we have also learnt in class, people generally have rather short attention spans and short videos are thus often preferred. We thus needed to ensure that the essence of the story could be adequately, and accurately, captured within the 60 second time frame to achieve our intended aims. These were the end products.

What we wanted to tell with Sam’s story was that sometimes ordinary people can be capable of extraordinary achievements when given the right opportunities, and with the right attitude. Sam came from very humble beginnings, and went on to become the first foreign student to top his cohort at the United States Naval Academy, and be awarded the Singapore National Youth Achievement Award (Gold) by the President of Singapore for his service to the community.
What we wanted to tell with Ganasekar’s story was that even though life sometimes deals you a rough start and a challenging deck of cards, you have the ability to shape your own future depending on how you choose to play the hand. Despite dropping out of school twice, Ganasekar subsequently completed the equivalent of his associate degree (with a perfect GPA of 4.0) and went on to attain his Bachelor’s with Honours from the National University of Singapore at the age of 42. His is a story of personal redemption and grit, and serves as an inspiration for youths to never give up. This video was picked up by a local newspaper who ran a feature on his story.
What we wanted to tell with Zhi Wei’s story was the importance of family ties and how that relates to the Navy Family Spirit. Inspired by his father who served as a sailor with the Merchant Navy, Zhi Wei joined the Navy and served as an Engineer with the pioneer crew of the newly launched Littoral Mission Vessel. Just like how his father was a pioneer in his generation, this pioneering spirit has led Zhi Wei to push new boundaries in new capabilities towards a new future. Just as we have been inspired by the generations before us, we hope that our servicemen and women will serve as an inspiration to the generations to come. Fun Fact: the elderly gentleman that plays Zhi Wei’s father near the end of the video is Zhi Wei’s actual father.
What we wanted to do with Rice’s story was to debunk certain myths about joining as a Naval Diver, an elite corps with the Navy (think: Navy SEALS). Most people often have the impression that you need to be extremely fit in order to even stand a chance but the truth is that in this job, attitude matters more than aptitude because the latter can be honed with progressive training. Enlisted as a non-swimmer (a Diver that cannot swim?? Unimaginable!), Rice was put out of course for failing to meet the physical requirements but he never gave up, and trained on his own and with his peers and asked for a second shot, which he got and which he passed. He is trained today as an elite diver that is capable of undertaking missions from both air, land and sea. Fun Fact: Unlike the other videos, the ‘script’ for this video is a recitation of the Naval Diver’s Creed which we felt perfectly conveyed the ethos and spirit of what it means to be an elite Diver.

All the stories were developed in close consultation with the actual individuals which we also sought to feature in the videos instead of using actors. This required a close partnership between the Navy, the creative agency as well as the film production company so that we could tell their stories in an interesting, engaging way without compromising on the integrity and accuracy of the stories. Authenticity thus served as a guiding principle in the development and production of the stories and this was something that we wanted to convey to the viewers as well (as indicated by the ‘Based on a True story’ line that appears at the start of every video).

This storytelling journey and experience has been an amazing one for me personally. The entire process from start to finish was not easy, and involved many late nights (the Diver shoot was done at 1 a.m. so that we could get the lighting right) and a lot of brainstorming as to how best to tell and present the stories. They were eventually rolled out and positively received on various social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. If I could summarize this entire storytelling process, it would probably be: (1) Be clear about the narratives you want to tell, (2) Be exhaustive in your search for those narratives, (3) Never compromise on authenticity and (4) Lead with the Heart, and not the Mind.

Note: All opinions and perspectives above are mine and do not reflect that of the Navy 🙂

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Exposed

Ever since Singapore imposed its version of a national lockdown, I’ve had far too much spare time on my hands. I’ve wisely chosen to spend the bulk of it on Instagram, refreshing the explore page and scrolling through the curated content presented based on my past likes and interests. This has been devastating for productivity, but on the bright side I have discovered some interesting new accounts that make me feel slightly less bad about not picking up a new skill/having a proper routine/getting out of bed.

Amongst these is Celebface, an account dedicated to exposing the truth behind photos of celebrity influencers. Through obsessive scrutiny and meticulous sleuthing, Celebface reveals the secret behind the mandatory tiny waist, plump lips, and poreless skin now sported by basically every Instagram model – airbrushing, and a lot of it. The account calls out doctored images in two main ways: firstly by highlighting warped backgrounds and other noticeable Photoshop mistakes left by careless celebrities, and secondly by sharing GIFs that alternate between unedited newswire photos and the polished versions uploaded by influencers themselves. Prominent celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner have not been spared, with Khloe Kardashian even blocking the account after it posted about her.

View this post on Instagram

Photoshop fail or not? 🤔

A post shared by WELCOME TO REALITY (@celebface) on

The account has gained a cult-like following of over 1.3 million users – clearly the disjunct between Instagram and reality is a topic that many find interesting. The effects of social media on negative body image, especially for women, is well-established. Common changes and tweaks highlighted by Celebface include lips being made to look poutier, hair being edited to appear more voluminous, and waists/hips being enhanced to achieve an hourglass effect. Whilst it is human nature to want to share only the best aspects of oneself, the polished, glossy versions presented in the kinds of photos exposed by Celebface contribute towards a culture of dysmorphia, where photoshopped perfection is naturalised and others are made to feel inadequate for not conforming with the kinds of beauty celebrated on Instagram.

The account has been accused of cyberbullying on numerous occasions, often due to its sneering captions and overall snarky attitude. For instance, it faced great backlash after it posted images from a Vogue Japan shoot featuring Bella Hadid, with the accompanying caption: “Your parents bought your career, but they didn’t buy the confidence for you. I wish you to be happy, because you don’t love yourself and are unsure of yourself.” Some have argued that even famous celebrities and influencers are not exempt from insecurities and self-esteem issues, and that Celebface shouldn’t encourage its wide following to display unkind and judgemental behaviour.

I am personally unconvinced by such calls for Celebface to stop its brand of digital shaming. Claims of cyberbullying feel overblown, especially when you consider the high-profile targets of Celebface’s posts: even with 1.3 million followers, the account has an almost paltry following relative to the prolific influencers it features. The disparity in power is evident not only through follower counts, but also in terms of the social and financial resources that the celebrities in question command. Furthermore, many of the influencers exposed by Celebface rely, at least in part, on their appearance for profit – Celebface holds these celebrities accountable for their role in perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards, and promotes transparency in the previously opaque world of famous people and their perfect bodies. Beyond that I’m also generally just really impressed by the amount of effort and attention to detail behind each post, for seemingly no financial benefit at all. By shedding light on how what we have come to celebrate as perfection really only exists within the frame of a screen, Celebface runs counter to dominant trends on social media and marks an important step forward for body positivity.

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Face it!

Without speaking, your face often says it all.  Now amid COVID-19 your ability to pass a red-face test or hold your poker face maybe not as important with much of your expression being hidden.

In the past, Hollywood’s masked superheros hid their identities yet remained exposed around their nose and mouths.

Yet with COVID-19 masks covering the mouth and nose thus hiding most expressions, it seems that people are still taking the opportunity to show their personality.

Before the fun gallery of various face masks, it’s best to understand this device and gauge one’s expectations and benefits.  Experts do seem to agree that use of a face mask as part of a tiered defense against COVID-19 makes sense.  

The following video is a very reasonable, logical, and technically understandable presenting a non-biased view about wearing face masks. 

Now having passed the serious part of this blog, please scroll down and may you enjoy the individuality in the style and type of masks being worn.

https://vm.tiktok.com/v8KJUT/

With TikTok followers of almost one million, #covid19facemask provides a wide range of viewing options.

Stay covered, stay well, and take care.

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Confessions of a Shopaholic

The introduction of the Instagram Shopping tab last year was devastating for my shopping habits. The function allows brands to feature items in their stories and posts, and by tapping on the product tag, users can purchase the item directly without having to even leave the Instagram app. Although I’ve always been rather easily persuaded to part with my money when it comes to products recommended by influencers, the Shopping feature essentially streamlines the whole process, saving me the trouble of having to google the item separately after seeing it on Instagram.

I was forced to rethink my shopping behaviours a few days ago, when the rack in one of my wardrobes collapsed under the weight of all my clothes/mistakes.

I then had to go through the process of folding everything up (to be put away until the wardrobe is repaired), during which I had a serious think about how I got here. It’s true that I already had an inclination to buy more clothes than I really need even before the introduction of the Shopping tab, but there’s no denying that my shopping habits have spiraled out of control since then. I briefly reflected on the reasons for why this could have happened.

Firstly, the function offers a vastly different experience from shopping at traditional retail or online shops, in that consumers no longer have to go through the (sometimes) tedious process of browsing through the full range of products available. Rather, items are presented by brands in individual posts, and users are offered an easy and convenient option to immediately buy anything that catches their eye. Making purchases without having to go through the ‘usual shopping process’ makes it feel less like shopping and more just like a part of my regular Instagram routine, and I’ve become so habituated to clicking on and paying for items within the app that sometimes it doesn’t even register that I’ve just bought something.

Secondly, I’ve always enjoyed following and interacting with some of my favorite shops on Instagram – some brands use the platform to offer advice on how to style their products, while others hold Instagram Live sessions where models try on new arrivals and viewers can ask questions before deciding whether to purchase anything. However, due to the nature of The Algorithm, this also means that I’m constantly being recommended clothing items and accessories on my feed, even from shops and brands that I don’t follow. Too often, I succumb to temptation without properly considering whether I really need any new clothes.

I’ve now committed to not make any more purchases until I’ve worn everything I own at least twice. I’ve also created a separate Instagram account specifically to follow my favorite brands, in the hopes of purging my main feed from such content. I even went on a (very brief) Instagram cleanse, where I temporarily deactivated my main account and removed the app from my phone to reduce temptation altogether.

out of sight, out of mind.

My personal struggles with being a shopaholic aside – it seems many social media platforms are now eager to offer their users a seamless shopping experience. Apart from Instagram, Pinterest also offers the option to purchase items featured on its site. More recently, TikTok launched an in-app shopping function that allows users to shop for products related to a sponsored hashtag challenge. Going forward, I’m interested to see how retailers – especially those who are still struggling with the move from brick-and-mortar stores to online shops – will acclimatise to this trend.

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