When Sophia Li (BA ’13) took on the role of Vogue.com’s first-ever entertainment media editor, she helped shape VOGUE’s social and digital voice as the publication launched its new online presence.

This meant a near-constant stream of content. Li and her team were producing multiple videos and social and digital content every day. It was exciting to be at the forefront as print publications established their place in a digital landscape, and Li had the chance to collaborate with contemporary artists, fashion designers, athletes, models and other leaders in the fashion industry.

But as the years went by, Li—who studied fashion merchandising at VCUarts—began to realize that, just as we experience noise and light pollution, we were entering an age of content pollution.

“We’re inundated with information and content, and we think that just because we put it out there on the internet, or in a digital space, it’s affecting everyone,” she says. “But having all of this information, constantly, without connectivity, I think it really affects our mental health and our perception of the world in a way that we might not even know how it can affect us long term.”

Since leaving Vogue.com in 2017, Li’s focus has shifted to what she calls “conscious content”—immersive, multimedia news and stories that resonate with her intended audience. Some of her recent projects have included exploring wildfires in the Amazon rainforest for a beauty company that produces sustainably-sourced skin care and cosmetics, and a series for CNN documenting the popularity of live-streaming apps in Asia and their potential impact on Western cultures.

“When I was at VOGUE, we were curating to a schedule, such as Fashion Month or the Met Gala red carpet weekend,” she says. “Now, I am committed to always making, producing, directing, and sharing content that I think is valuable, educational, and impactful, but also entertaining.”

While Li was becoming more conscious of the content she puts out into the world, she was also becoming more intentional about her own consumption of digital content.

After researching social media behavior patterns, she discovered links between social media use and depression, body dysmorphia, and a disconnect between social and real-life personas. In response, Li has made an effort to limit her own usage by leaving her phone at home on weekends when she’s not working; using phone restrictions to set app limits and block usage overnight; and charging her phone in a different room. She also rarely posts to social media in the moment, preferring instead to experience life as it happens.

“We live in a culture where you’re expected to be reachable and on 24/7, and that’s not sustainable,” she says. “Then you ask yourself, who are you living life for? Are you living life for your digital or social persona? Or are you living life for reality?”

“If you don’t set those really strong boundaries for yourself, no one else will.”

Some might see these limits as a challenge—particularly when trying to launch a business that relies on a presence on social and digital platforms—but Li says social media is often only an entry point for working with her clients. Then, she says, in-person conversations and lived experiences take over.

“The real work is going to move the needle and make waves, and that happens outside of your social and digital existence,” she says. “All of my connections—especially business relationships or business projects where I’ve been commissioned—happened in real life. That digital connection might be the starting point, but how you position yourself, what you’re passionate about, your experience—that is what actually secures the deal.”

Sophia Li (BA ’13), who majored in fashion merchandising at VCUarts, will address the Class of 2019 at VCUarts’ December commencement ceremony.

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