By Shaun Loh (21A01A; RI), Tan Yu You (21S03H; RI), Jace Bong (20-E1; EJC), Leia Ong (20-U1; EJC), Nicole Chao (20-U5; EJC)
This was written in collaboration with EJC Press as part of Cross Island Impressions, an inter-JC Press collaboration.
A common scenario earlier this year: walking about in school, the voice of a woman chanting “Renegade” would pierce our ears, prompting all listeners within earshot to break into jocular gyrating and dancing.
Yes, earlier this year, when we could still interact with our friends without masks muffling our voices, when we could make TikToks during breaks, when we could hang out after school at Junction 8 in groups larger than five. Sadly, after the implementation of the circuit breaker measures, many of us feel robbed of these little joys of life. Even though school has resumed, there is still a sense of longing for things to go back to normal.
This is where social media comes into play. For the past three months or so, school culture has been reduced to student council Instagram accounts and online interactions with teachers. We are also relying on social media even more for personal interactions. Furthermore, this state of crisis has led us to increasingly use such platforms to keep abreast of current affairs.
Yet, do we give too much credit to social media? Ultimately, what exactly is the extent of influence that social media wields over us?
Over a hundred students from EJC and RI were surveyed to uncover the role and importance of social media in the personal lives of current Eunoians and Rafflesians.
Overall, Instagram is—surprise, surprise—the go-to social media platform of choice for Rafflesians and Eunoians alike, with a whopping 84.3% professing daily usage. Consideration was given to other social platforms such as Reddit, TikTok and Facebook, but the popularity of these diminished in descending order, with percentages of 7.4, 5.6 and 2.3 respectively.
Furthermore, social media is extremely significant in students’ lives: when asked to rate the importance of social media platforms in their lives, an overwhelming majority (83.3%) rated it at least 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, with the latter being the highest level of importance.
From these statistics, it is evident that Eunoians and Rafflesians—and, perhaps, youth in general—have placed a high degree of priority on social media, confirming its prevalence in our personal lives.
How, then, do students and teachers from EJC and RI feel about the significance social media has in maintaining connections with friends?
“Social media is entertaining at times and allows us to connect better with people around us, fostering better relationships and bringing us closer together,” said Alastor Lai, a Year 5 student from RI. “Participating in [social media] trends together with friends also helps cultivate common interests and a common topic of discussion, keeping the friendship exciting!”
Rachel Ong, a J1 Eunoian, also shared similar sentiments: “Social media platforms like Instagram are able to give me topics to talk about with my friends.” When asked about what they talk about, Rachel replied: “A whole range of topics, from frivolous TikTok trends to cute guys in school, to more serious issues like cultural appropriation.”
Of course, technology isn’t just for us teenagers. Many teachers also have Instagram accounts of their own, which many students happily follow to find out more about their teachers’ personal lives and to keep in contact after graduation.
“Instagram is quite useful [for building connections] if teachers and students are willing to reciprocate the other’s attempts to reach out,” said Mrs Brigitte Koh, an EJC Mathematics teacher.
Year 5 RI student Justin Chen also shared: “I’ve talked to my ex-teachers from secondary school on Instagram during this period of time. It’s really heartwarming to be able to reconnect with them after graduating. I guess that’s one of the blessings of this Circuit Breaker.”
EJC Dean (JC1), Mr Ganison Rajamohan, offered another dimension: “Social media has helped identify certain circumstances such as depression, where friends of the student facing the problems contact teachers out of concern after the student uploads particularly worrying social media posts.”
Thus, social media affords us a more personal understanding of the interests of our peers and teachers. It also provides us with an alternative avenue to better understand our friends not just during these turbulent times, but also during the everyday challenges we face.
NOT JUST FOR “RENEGADE”
On top of deepening relationships, social media has definitely brought to light pertinent social issues we would not have otherwise discovered. The shortened, bite-sized amounts of information we receive from social media allow us to obtain our news at a faster pace. Indeed, a very intrigued Raffles GP teacher (who declined to be named) quipped: “SJW culture is so entrenched nowadays! I think that while it’s very extreme on the internet, it’s so heartening to at least see Singaporean teenagers having opinions on social issues. They definitely wouldn’t be this knowledgeable without the low barriers of social media!”
On a more personal level, Ms Gladys Wong (EJC) started an inspirational calligraphy Instagram account to record her progress in learning the skill. Ms Wong chooses to letter quotes that motivate herself, in hopes of being able to motivate viewers in turn. She fondly shared how an ex-student messaged her to say that she was motivated by her posts to continue working towards her university exams.
Clearly, the act of creating content on social media is not merely a way to entertain others but a way to motivate them too. It can also serve as a personal outlet for creativity and self-improvement.
Of course, social media is not a bed of roses: it has the potential to hurt, though often unintentionally. An RI teacher (who also declined to be named) reminded students to “share only positive or uplifting posts in support of causes, subjects and people you care about”, and cautioned them to be mindful of what they post, lest they end up oversharing or harming others.
In addition, social media may become more of a distraction than a tool to maintain connections with friends to some. Ms Christina Tan (RI) noted that she had come across “some brilliant students who deactivate their accounts two months before the A Levels so that they can concentrate on their studies and return only after the As are over”.
A CONTRIBUTOR TO SCHOOL CULTURE?
Social media has not just influenced the individual lives of so many Rafflesians and Eunoians, but has also contributed immensely to the school cultures of RI and EJC.
When asked to rate the degree to which they feel social media fosters school culture on a scale of 1 (not a significant role) to 5 (a very significant role), a significant 81.8% of respondents rated it at least a 4 out of 5. 80% also cited mini challenges as the main method of cultivating school spirit through social media, while 62.7% cited the publicity of school events.
“Apart from the usual promotion of school events, I think Instagram challenges have been really trendy this year. I think it started from TikTok challenges. The Student Council definitely makes good use of these challenges to foster camaraderie among everyone,” said a J2 Eunoian who wanted to remain anonymous.
Indeed, the maximisation of interactive opportunities provided by social media is not something exclusive to EJC only. Gemma Mollison, a student councillor from RI, also shared: “We really try to use the school Instagram account to engage everyone. At the start of the year, everyone was so hooked on Instagram Story filters, so Council decided to design a filter for the Open House logo. It’s all about fun!”
Mrs Koh expanded upon this, highlighting the similarity between how politicians and schools use their social media platforms to push out messages. “Councillors, Gliders (from the EJ GLIDE Program) as well as CCAs all use this platform to showcase their own organisations. EJ Media is one of these CCAs: their members take pictures to capture memorable moments in school and help shape the EJ narrative.”
The significance of social media has also increased exponentially during this trying period of COVID-19. With everyone banned from gatherings, it is inevitable to miss meeting friends and classmates. Even after school has resumed, we still can’t stay back to hang out or study with one another.
When asked about the use of social media platforms during the Circuit Breaker period, one thing came to the mind of RI student Sarah Goldman: “I think everyone was making Bingo templates in April during HBL to post on their Instagram Stories.”
If you didn’t already know, a Bingo template involves a checklist for students to match their own activities in school to the ones stated on the template. On their Instagram Stories, students would tick off the corresponding boxes hoping to get five ticks in a row, which would constitute a “bingo”.
Sarah further explained: “I think it’s really heartwarming, because not only did the Students’ Council design the templates, but our individual classes also made our own to play. It really creates a sense of belonging.”
Nonetheless, many have differing opinions on whether social media is the primary medium for fostering school culture. 47.3% of the 112 surveyed agreed that social media is the primary medium, while 32.7% claimed that it only somewhat is and 20% disagreed entirely.
“Social media does offer some similarities to the Mean Girls idea of cliques. All of us gravitate to like-minded friends for identity and other nerdy existential concerns. When we post pictures of our friend circles, we are reminded of the distance between one another’s cliques,” a student from EJC who swore off Instagram shared on why she feels that social media increases fragmentation.
Still, another group of reserved students in school had something to say. “Is school culture so important? Student councils and their Instagram accounts are so overly cheery, it’s almost inauthentic,” said an anonymous Year 6 Rafflesian. Indeed, this sense of cynicism towards ideological aspects of institutions is not something unfamiliar to all of us.
After all, social media is innately performative, and the disconnect between appearances online and reality may actually alienate us from one another. An EJC student who declined to be named remarked that school social media posts were at times “superficial and overly optimistic”. And yet another EJC student summed up his thoughts in a short, dismissive statement: “Some of us just don’t care.”
Perhaps social media has helped you feel closer to your friends, or opened you up to the concept of school spirit, or made learning a more independent process. Or maybe not: maybe it’s just that second choice you have to settle with because there’s no other way to communicate with your friends. Maybe social media is too superficial in your eyes, and exaggerates school spirit. Maybe social media isn’t that effective of a learning tool for you. Whichever it may be, social media is certainly a force to be reckoned with; it will continue to bring school culture closer to us, help us strengthen our friendships, and imbue us with more knowledge. Although our EJC and RI student bodies are enormous, with 1,250 and 2,400 students respectively, social media does definitely foster closer bonds within our communities, and has become even more essential in unifying the student body."Of TikToks and I.G. Stories: the EJ-RI Perspective",