Like my profile picture! Follow me on Instagram! Friend me on Facebook! Favorite my tweet! Essentially, like what I have to say, what I have to share, what I have to express. Like ME. We live in an era where the cursor is as mighty as the sword, social media platforms act as this generation’s soap box, and the like is seen as the all-powerful stamp of approval.
As social media becomes more ingrained in our everyday interactions, some important questions must be explored: Why does our generation seek validation online? How does that affect how we present ourselves online?
Social media provides a platform to express yourself, whether that’s through refining your filtering game on Instagram or composing the perfect 140 characters for a tweet. To some extent, people use social media to truly represent themselves. However, more often than not, people use social media to portray their ideal selves. Social media has become less a representation of daily life and more of a highlight reel of people’s greatest hits. As this generation puts more and more weight on others’ standings on social media, there is an emerging need to be validated online. The number of likes, follows, and online friends that people possess are now measures of their popularity and self-worth.
Nearly everyone has an intrinsic need to be liked by other people. It’s just a part of life. As social creatures, people are concerned with being appreciated and respected by those who surround them. They pander to the crowds, hoping to please someone, anyone, and everyone. And that’s where validation comes into play. The approval of others has become a top social priority that often dictates our actions. People who seek the attention and approval of others are looking for external validation. In many psychological research studies, such as this one and this one, it has been increasingly apparent that social anxiety correlates to an excessive need to increase validation from others. And that is only exacerbated by social media. With likeability now quantifiable, people want to increase their numbers. But at what cost?
When people go online and scroll through their newsfeeds, they’re met with immaculate selfies, stunning vistas, and festive social gatherings. And people compare their lives to the perfectly curated lives that social media presents us. In her article, “Cropping Out the Sadness,” Glynnis Macnicol explores this phenomenon, describing online personas as “the highlight-reel self. The public-facing self. The fearless self… the self that wanders around the Internet collecting likes… [and cries out] ‘You are the eternal Prom Queen of your digital life!’” Essentially, it’s the self that crops out those moments in life that wouldn’t make the montage, those moments of loneliness and confusion between the selfies. The messy, beautiful things that make up life, leaving in its wake what people think others want to see.
Essena O’Neill, an 18-year-old from Australia who gained over half a million Instagram followers, beyond her thousands of fans on YouTube, Tumblr, and Snapchat, recently made the news after she announced that she was done with social media. After deleting 2000 pictures from her Instagram, O’Neill retitled her account “Social Media Is Not Real Life” and recaptioned the remaining photos to reveal what was going on behind the camera. These new captions reflect the number of shots she had to take to find “the one,” the posts for which she was sponsored, and the pressures she felt to be perfect.
While not all teens have huge sponsorships or followings like O’Neill, they do feel the pressure to be liked and accepted by their peers. Oftentimes, they succumb to the demands of being seen in the right place, with the right crowd, in the right clothes. Many people spend a majority of their time addicted to social media and the social approval and status associated with being well-liked online. As O’Neill herself described in her last Instagram post, social media “is a system based on social approval, likes, validation, in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgement.” Everyone’s social media is a carefully contrived image, that as O’Neill demonstrates, doesn’t always represent “real life.”
Who hasn’t fallen victim to the “impromptu” photo shoot for a new profile picture? Or stopped their friend from ruining the perfect cappuccino foam design before they could Instagram it? What really goes into capturing the perfect shot?
This video on Buzzfeed demonstrates that Instagram doesn’t always tell the whole story as “People Come Clean About Their ‘Perfect’ Instagram Moments.” A lot of thought goes into every photograph and caption posted. Most people admitted that they didn’t get the shot they wanted on their first try. Others spent hours contemplating what to post, or even whether or not to post. Most people chose their photos after considering what others might think, nitpicking their insecurities in each and every photo. Some even chose their poses based on how well similar pictures of theirs had performed. More and more applications allow users to view statistics on their posts and construct the perfect profile. This infographic details exactly what, when, and how to post in order to receive the most attention on social media. Carefully composing a “carefree” candid has never taken more time.
At the end of the day, no one is going to stand up at your funeral and talk about the number of likes you got, or the flawless selfie you took. And you wouldn’t want them to. You want them to talk about how you made them feel, how you made an impact on their life for the better. That’s your legacy. Life is about more than just living for the like, so go out into the world and live it to the fullest.