I began thinking recently how milestones in my life over the last few years have been marked with a social media post, and in turn the likes and engagement that post received, and how slowly over the years those likes somewhat validated the success of that milestone. Shocking thought but I’d be lying if I said likes were not something I ever looked at or got a buzz off.. and so would you.
Last week when I graduated from my masters my friend commented that I had gotten a substantial amount of likes on a post I put up in cap and gown. “Only cost 10 grand for those likes” I joked. Because you know – I really only did a masters to graduate, get a photo, post it online for a bunch of acquaintances to like. Obviously.
An real example of the like impact that actually embarrasses me to think of, was when I lost a considerable amount of weight this year. Throughout my weight loss journey I felt a constant need to compare my progress with other transformation photos that I’d weekly witness on a Tuesday/ Thursday.
Admittedly, it became a goal I set with myself, how much do I need to lose before I post a photo? In this case I benchmarked my weight loss on a photo. Of course I wanted to lose the weight anyway but after a while such a large part of it became about that picture. Maddening I know. I lost 10kg in about 8 months while shaping up considerably. At the end of all my hard work I was down 10kg, 14 inches and up 140 Instagram likes. I hate to admit it but for a snippet in time, I above all else, regarded the likes as a really significant metric of all my hard work.
Now of course I live in a social media bubble and don’t aim to hide that so it doesn’t take a milestone for a social post. I, like many others chase the social high daily even. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, I even still Tweet – yeh it’s largely just talking to myself at this point but I do it none the less.
All these shiny platforms with which to indulge in this fleeting high. The mundane and the milestones alike, make it to social media and await the approval of peers.
Likes are the social tender we use to buy self esteem and recognition, but before they make it that far they’re already being registered as rewards. From the instant pleasure release we feel seeing that notification on our device, to the anticipation of how many likes we may rack up, the brain reads these signals as rewards the same way it would an actual achievement. It’s science or something, maybe don’t quote me.
“You get an emotional high when your posts hit a responsive chord with your audience, so you keep going after it, and you’re never fulfilled because you’ll always want more likes,” says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts.
Essentially we’re all
crack, like addicts is what she’s saying.
I’m not the only one who monitors social media acceptance like this, nor am I the worst of the accused but it is something I feel I have to address. The more aware and conscious I am of this unhealthy relationship I have with social media the more I retreat from its grip. We can waste hours analysing and over thinking the social acceptance of people we probably really don’t care all that much for anyway, when in reality you’re gaining nothing tangible or intangible from this usually very negative process. It’s utterly pointless.
Don’t get me wrong my life is ever fulfilled offline and is enriched with so much more than the temporary buzz I get from social media. I guess that’s what lead me to this post, noticing the line between offline and online waver and realising that not everything in my life had to be broadcasted in order for it to be deemed significant.
Social media is essential my bread and butter and I do think you can get as much or as little from it as you want. I feel the most important part is learning how to leverage and control it to an extent that it doesn’t impact your life in any other destructive way.