By Soha Kassab

KUWAIT: Welcome to the virtual conformity era! Individuals are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from crowds as social media culture continues to engulf the minds and lives of the younger generation at an alarming rate. Is it possible that we are witnessing a transition in which originality and individuality are being erased, raising a generation of digital clones? Long gone are the days when society’s youth proudly paraded around with their unique quirks and celebrated the differences among subcultures.

Nowadays, we see a concerning homogeneity among young people—the intense need to fit in, blend into the background, and follow the latest trends circulating on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. Through thought-provoking conversations with Kuwait’s youth, the Kuwait Times gathered a variety of profound and insightful perspectives on the issue. For example, with its filters and its calculated algorithm, many people have suggested that the trends circulating on social media have drastically altered our perception of life and how it’s meant to be lived.

As 18-year-old Mamoun Mraish stated, “Social media has warped our perception of reality and ourselves, and I find getting too lost in trends will just leave you confused about who you actually are and what you actually want.” In this day and age, the pressure to conform to popular trends and unrealistic standards has led many teenagers and young adults to question their authenticity, and most of them often struggle to differentiate their genuine selves from the virtual personas they have cultivated online.

Accordingly, various other voices also believe that the power social media wields is undeniable. The constant exposure to heavily edited images, as well as the self-consuming need for peer validation, has repeatedly resulted in the internationalization of fake beauty standards and materialistic goals. Another individual, Mariam Ahmed, thinks that it’s hard to not be influenced by it at such an impressionable time. She mentioned that the abundance of trends and the quick pace at which they are consumed lead to a lack of interest in “rigorous searches for the self”. Mariam goes on to say that “it’s so much easier to go on a faux arc of self-searching through TikTok sub-genres than it is to confront yourself one-on-one in the mirror.”

Such a strong impact on self-perception is already stifling personal identity discovery and can very well stunt the evolution of originality in upcoming generations. A contrast in viewpoints emerged among the older audience, who viewed individuality as a myth and told the Kuwait Times that the lack of originality within society would’ve existed with or without social media. “I think it’s hard to have individuality when there are 8 billion people in the world. I think, inevitably, you’re going to copy someone, and inevitably, you’ll get inspired by others,” explained 26-year-old Dhoha El Issa.

It’s discernible that age plays a pivotal role in shaping nuanced viewpoints across generations, and this is more evident in the beliefs of individuals who are 30 years old and older. A mother, aged 45, disclosed in an interview with the Kuwait Times that she didn’t find social media to be the main obstacle standing in the way of individuality and that it’s “more of a generational culture than it is technology”. In a world bustling with over 8 billion people and an overwhelming sea of internet content, the line between duplication and inspiration blurs, and it is said that it makes it impossible for the younger generation to seek a unique personality in such conditions.

Moreover, in the same vein, Dhoha Al-Issa acknowledged the dilemma of uniformity in appearances (especially in Kuwait). Considering the context, it comes as no shock that another frequent observation is the homogeneity fostered by social media culture in terms of physical attributes and clothing. The content creator noted, “The plastic surgeries that they’re doing are all the same. It’s the same exact bag, and it’s the same exact shoes. I went to the mall the other day, and I could swear I saw the same exact person walk by a billion times.”

The drive for social approval, along with continuous scrolling through accounts of the most celebrated and popular influencers, has ultimately generated a lack of diversity and creative expression, which has produced an array of indistinguishable aesthetics. A substantial number of voices assert that the upcoming generations are the most insecure and most vulnerable to identity crises, and that’s because social media has programmed the youth to think that finding the right niche to identify with will provide the same security as stripping back the layers of conformity to reveal some sort of true self.

However, after many discussions with the different age groups within this generation and multiple talks with individuals from previous generations, it is apparent that this phenomenon is more complex than just finding an aesthetic to define one’s agenda. Observably, a widespread sentiment is that, as we navigate through the digital world, we must remain mindful of the consequences that technology has on our sense of self and on the decisions we make.

Balancing the urge for connection and inspiration with genuine self-perception is an obligation that requires persistent self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-accountability. Correspondingly, the same demographic opines that we can reassert our individuality amid the uniformity that’s propagated by social media trends and aesthetics by recognizing and then celebrating our unique potential and finding solace in honest and sincere interactions.