August was a good month for me. Not only did I cross 200 followers on Instagram, but I also reached 90 followers on Twitter. Did I follow anyone new last month? Maybe one or two people, but only when it didn’t disrupt my F-to-F (follower to following) ratio.
Do my actions reek of vanity? Most definitely, but I’m not alone in my behavior. A friend of mine recently decided to follow all of his Facebook friends on Instagram, knowing they would reciprocate the favor and allow him to reach more than 500 followers. He then oh-so-cruelly unfollowed them a few days later, thus restoring his F-to-F ratio to something a bit more dignified.
Deliberate plays such as these carefully calculated following habits are a few among many of the unwritten rules and strategies geared toward achieving and maintaining social status with social media. These actions represent our never-ending quest to achieve empirical worth and desirability at the hands (and thumbs) of other people, many of whom we’re not really even friends with. The effort we’re putting into our online personas is a touchy subject within our age group (to be honest, we’re probably more comfortable talking religion or politics).
Not everyone is guilty of actively trying to maintain a “respectable” F-to-F ratio, but I’m sure many of us have stressed over picking the right profile picture on Facebook or have deleted an Instagram photo for receiving fewer than 11 likes. In light of our media anxiety, let’s take a moment from pulling down at our screens waiting for feeds to refresh and think about “sharing.”
Sharing is an act of generosity, in which one lets another in on something he or she previously did not have access to; sharing implies a type of selflessness. But as we’ve grown with social media, we’ve developed a culture of “sharing” that serves a more selfish purpose: creating content for the sake of having our egos stroked. Why do we “share” what we do? Why don’t we “share” what we don’t? It boils down to how we perceive how other people are perceiving us.
The long hours spent crafting, self-analyzing and refining our online personas rather than actually working on ourselves serves as a testament to our insecurities. Followers and likes actually matter to us because we want to matter. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to matter. The issue is how we choose to define how much we matter.
We’ve allowed the role of social media to transition from providing a platform that helps us connect with others into a finely tuned dispensary for self-validation. We’re addicted to the dopamine rush we feel when our screens light up with a notification informing us that someone, somewhere, has taken interest in our lives. This reward system, if contained in the digital space, wouldn’t be much of an issue, but my concern for our generation and successive generations stems from the way social media seeps into our lives, altering how we perceive the world around us and our role in it.
While staring at my own profile yet again on the neo-narcissistic pond that is my iPhone, I realized that validation in the form of hearts, thumbs-ups and comments from my peers could contribute either positively or negatively toward how I perceive an event long after it has occurred. Social media has conditioned us to be situational analysts, knee-jerk photographers expert at temporarily removing ourselves from the action in our environment in order to wear it as an accessory later on. Instead of capturing moments just for ourselves and those involved, we’re now creating content specifically for the platforms we use to share them. We’ve become better at mining our real shared moments with friends for the validation of people online whom we profess to hate, extending the overall lifespan of the moment while also assigning an entirely new set of qualitative values to what should sometimes just be experienced in the most pure sense of the word (i.e., without a camera lens).
Are we self-absorbed selfie-slaves? Are we caught in self-perpetuating cycles of compliment-trawling, more comfortable and confident with indulging in our vanity not only because our friends have begun to do the same but also because we’re actively rewarding one another for it? Only you can be that honest with yourself. This column is clearly my confessional.
We have been raised around the mantra “live in the moment.” Seems pretty simple (albeit a bit cliche), but we’ve forgotten how. Let’s rethink how we’re experiencing experiences. Let’s lose ourselves in moments instead of becoming scouts for digital souvenirs. Next time you’re in the midst of a night you won’t remember, with the people you won’t forget, enjoy the rush of having nothing to show for it. And after you’ve had your fun, reflect on it, by yourself and with those involved, loving the moment for what it was and not for how others might have perceived it to be.
“Off the Beat” guest columns will be written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers are selected.