Throughout the various trials of exam and revision season, social media was both my friend and my foe. After long stints of note-taking and essay writing, I would look to Facebook for relief and reassurance. No, I was not the only one studying incessantly and no, nobody else was enjoying any form of a social life, besides the virtual one I was looking at. In fact, the more competitive side of me even responded to some Facebook posts as a form of challenge. You’re doing seven hours a day? Well then, I’ll do eight, thank you very much.
This determination did, however, encounter a slight hindrance: the causes of the Cold War didn’t seem quite so palatable after browsing videos of dancing birds and song parodies. A brief session online – although a kind of mini-break – interrupted my concentration. What’s more, lost in the depths of social media, I found that a study break wasn’t always exactly "mini" and, often, neither was it refreshing. The transition from a screen of revision notes to a screen of immaculately edited photos did nothing to alleviate my tiredness or headaches.
Essentially, social media is far from soothing in times of stress. To be summoned from note-taking by the invasive ding of my phone was a constant feature of my revision. Of course, I could have just ignored the notification but, more often than not, thoughts of what that mysterious, unopened WhatsApp message might contain brought my essay on metaphysical poetry to a gradual halt, and before I knew it, I was on back online.
This transition between the language of social media and the stiff prose of an English essay presented itself as a tough feat. While never forgetting that "lol" has no place in academic work, I found that social media’s tendency towards abbreviation and colloquialism doesn’t exactly lend itself to the formal, evaluative style of A-level essays.
As an aside, it wasn’t just on my studies that the effects of the Facebook vernacular manifested themselves. I’ve found that, albeit in a subtle way, social media has influenced my learning of social skills. Not only has online slang become a constant feature in conversations between me and my friends, but it has made friendships more virtual and less tangible. Why bother meeting up with someone in person when you can have a video chat with them?
Also, it seems to me that the photo-sharing aspect that is central to so many social media apps has tainted our interactions with a culture of vanity. If you’re going on a night out, you'd better look good because snapchats will be taken.
This said, I can’t deny the value of collaboration that is integral to social media and which proved itself a great help in my final school year. Numerous school nights – teetering on the brink of work deadlines – have found me sending and receiving examples and advice from my classmates over networking sites.
I’ve even known some of my friends to exploit these sites as a means of conducting research. The ability to create and share questionnaires with a wide audience, for example, is invaluable to media students creating products with an eye to ascertaining the needs and wants of certain demographics, while art and photography students can easily seek praise and constructive criticism from their peers online.
As such, I would class the impact of social media upon learning as ambiguous at best. Yes, it has the ability to enhance school work by providing a medium for peer evaluation and collaboration, but who’s to say that students will actually use it for this, as opposed to a means of sharing drunken photos or meticulously recorded descriptions of their lunch?
All I can say with some certainly is that I’m sure that in my coming years at university, Instagram is unlikely to feature too heavily as an academic resource.
Sophie Conquest recently completed her A-levels. She will be reading English at Oxford from next month