It’s 2017, Don’t Live For The “Likes”

Think back to when you were eleven… what was your ideal Christmas/Hanukkah/Birthday gift? Probably something along the lines of a video or board game, skateboard, CD, or maybe even present of the latest trend.

Oh, how the times have changed. Currently working with sixth graders, I was able to listen in on students divulging their most coveted holiday gifts before break, and the answers were a majority of unanimously troubling responses that truly signal the times.

Eleven year olds don’t want gifts of significant sentimental value or things they can play with. Instead, eleven year olds are now asking mommy, daddy, Santa, or whomever to buy them social media followers — typically on Instagram (the hottest spot for youth, as of right now, as I was informed). These hired bots, or fake accounts, are purchased for the sole purpose to “like” kids’ posts, providing them with inauthentic, literally purchased, social acceptance and popularity. This reveals troubling trends for our future and raising questions insight into our own social media activity. From whom and where did these young people get such harmful, capitalistic ideas about socializing and popularity?

Remember; these are kids wanting to purchase followers, not social media influencers trying to expand their brand’s reach or anything of the sort.

Though we may not buy followers, do we, like the new generation of eleven year olds, really post on social media solely for acceptance? How do our own social networking footprints impact the younger generations, and how can we be more authentic so as to lead by example?

There are so many components involved in crafting and publishing the perfect post. Be it on Facebook (which is apparently so three years ago), Twitter, or Instagram, we consider so many working parts before clicking that enter button and sending our best, most retouched version of ourselves into the world. “Which filter do I look best in?” “Is this caption witty/ironic enough?” “Do I have too many hashtags?” “Is this the best time of day to get the most likes?” Are all valid questions you’ll overhear in any public setting nowadays, as people genuinely stress over maximizing their “like” number for posts.

This begs the question of “Why do we care so much?” It has gotten to the point where much of what we do in our organic human lives is enacted for the sole purpose of a photo op that yields pictures to weed through, in hopes of finding one that could get the most likes. Who have we become, and why do these “likes” matter so much?

As somebody with private accounts, I’ve realized that more than half the people who like any of my posts are people I barely even know or speak with. While it feels nice to have people appreciate my pictures, I think that I have grown to separate the photos from the popularity. I really only feel excitement from “likes” if I’m especially proud of a caption, in that I was able to nerd out and apply a song lyric or literary quote skillfully, or if I took a stellar photo. But regardless of my “likes,” the photos or posts are for me; I post for myself, as a trail of memories for myself. I think that this mentality separates me and my likeminded peers from those “like”-obsessed.

I’ve had people, mainly the thirteen year old girl I babysit, tell me that I should be embarrassed if any Instagram I post gets less than 50 likes (and it should therefore be deleted immediately).

This is a case in point; perhaps it’s a generational thing; perhaps it’s an age thing… adolescence is brutal and we all crave acceptance in a life or death kind of way. But I do know that it goes deeper that. Many people adopt social media personas, feeling obliged to post or like daily, and face pressures or repercussions if they don’t.

We’ve created this pressure ourselves; in valuing people like the Kardashians as stars and turning social media into a venue for socialites to emerge, we’ve made social networking acceptance a high-stakes affair. We feel a need to shine, to Tweet, Tumble, and Insta in a way that makes us stand out; we have to be extreme enough to gain followers, even if it is all a mask that hides (or implicates) or true selves…anything for the likes. The problem is, that in our values and social media actions, we, as a society, are showing the youth that there is no end game, there is never enough.

Posting a nature panorama isn’t good enough… not enough likes. Soon you must self deprecate with a highly-made up selfie. But that won’t be enough, you must buy followers or likes and then post semi-nudes, or even fully-fledged nudes. What, may I ask, does this do to the quality of our human interactions, or even or morals? Surely it doesn’t improve them…

People feel obligated to buy friends. That, in itself is pathetic. They feel they need to keep up with the Joneses (or Kardashians), and create false personas, denigrating themselves in the process. Very few of us have the nerve to present a true version of ourselves, for we hide behind filters, editing, online personas, and make up. We can no longer communicate, and we are caught up in this web of a popularity contest; we can’t even be honest with one another in earnestly “liking” someone’s post, for we only do it, oftentimes, out of obligation.

What is the remedy to this? People will always crave acceptance. It is in our nature. However, we can also try being ourselves. Easier said than done, I know (especially for us non pubescent folks). Giving up certain forms of social media is a blessing; privatizing accounts is even greater. Engaging in discourse with kids and picking their brains about the addiction is sobering to us…it’s eye opening and prompts deep reflection about our own motivations in the popularity game. But, my friends, unplugging is the best bet. Social media is a necessary evil, of this I am aware, but we must also consider how nothing we post is sacred; everything follows us, so if we are going to post, we should truly consider doing it for the truest versions of ourselves, ones that would make our eleven year old selves (and parents) proud.

Don’t live for the “likes,” but instead, consider “liking” the life you live. Social media shouldn’t be the end all be all for confirming that you live a good life or are doing the right thing, but rather should be a means of collecting your memories so you can appreciate yourself and who you truly are without judgement.