It’s confusing for us if someone isn’t on social media. What do you do with yourself? Are you a hermit? What would someone without social media even do? I’ve probably been on social media since the age of 11; the classic, ‘I’m not actually 26, I just had to fake my age to be on Facebook.’ When I started, it was just so that I could keep in touch with my friends and see what people were sharing outside of what I knew of them. 7 years later, I’m on every thinkable social media platform (but never on LinkedIn). With self-expression and freedom of identity comes exposure to all kinds of voices but on social media platforms like Instagram, mainly bodies and a deep insight into our personal lives. We all love to scope into people’s lives but what do we do when a desire to know about someone else becomes a desire to be someone else? At what stage does expressing your identity turn into wanting to change your identity?
We are all consumed by social media even when we try to deny it. A day can’t go by without waking up and checking the number of likes we achieved on our last photo, or who liked it in the first place. Yet, Instagram, one of our beloved apps, is changing for the worst. And the reason I say worst is because of our perpetual need for validation and acceptance in our superficial and artificial world.
Before the recent changes, Instagram’s algorithm worked like this. Your feed is presented to you in chronological order. The posts you would see were neither ranked nor affected by the amount of attention you received. However, now the posts you see are the ones with the highest levels of engagement. Unless you’re immediately getting 10,000 likes and 2,000 comments on a photo, it’ll be a while until it’s seen by your followers. This is why when you open up Instagram, you will be flooded with the latest celebrity posts making you even more concerned about Kylie’s lips or Kim’s ass. Inevitably, this makes us anxious about our own posts. Are we not good enough to be seen on other people’s feeds? What do we need to do to receive the appreciation we crave?
The need for validation in our day and age is rapidly increasing and it gets more and more damaging each day. 65,000 under-18s in 2015-2016 alone were taking antidepressants. Kids who haven’t even finished school are dealing with serious mental health issues and it’s hard to separate the effect of social media from that.
We naturally seek attention, yet the extent of the attention we seek because of social media is creeping up. Social media is no longer about simply sharing special moments for others to see and feel involved in. If anything, social media platforms like Instagram, which are based off exclusively sharing photos, are nothing but measures of our worth and our importance and influence within society. If we don’t have influence and aren’t turning heads then we believe ourselves to be meaningless. In fact, we can’t even take a picture without trying to figure out the best poses or the best angles. It becomes less about having a skill in photography and more about how to simply impress the most people. We become envious and doubtful, essentially damaging our confidence which is pivotal to our growth as human beings.
Social media is no longer about sharing special moments for others to see. If anything, social media platforms are nothing but measures of our worth and our importance and influence within society.
So what do we do about the epidemic Instagram is causing? Should we be trying to accommodate our attention seeking needs or is the long term solution to reform the minds of our youth? It seems more realistic to quench our cravings rather than trying to rid us of the need for validation that exists in the first place. More people urge Instagram to revert back to their old settings rather than reflecting on the situation and teaching themselves that we don’t need the acceptance we want from others. I can’t say that I would ever pull myself away from Instagram; there truly is nothing more empowering than people showing appreciation for your work or even something as simple as your face. Where would we even be without Instagram? Would we be more or less insecure about ourselves, not having our phones lit up by the notification ‘so and so has liked your post’? All that can be said is that social media has an effect on our mental health more than we would like to admit and it probably won’t be long until we’re all attached to our digital lives and less in touch with our real ones.