Digital Dystopia: "Living for Likes"

In an age when likes on an Instagram photo count for popularity, prestige and likeability, it seems apt to question the role of social media in the younger generations lives. A ‘like’ has superseded its function as a mere recognition of an attractive photograph to now signify a plethora of subliminal meanings.

It is widely known that humans seek approval and this is now disturbingly sought through intangible and simplistic ‘likes’ from other people. Further shocking is the scientific finding that our brains have learnt to actually release a hit of dopamine when we see those love hearts appear on our Instagram page. People have caught wind; the likes of politicians, scientists and health organisations have expressed their concerns about the ubiquitous nature of social media. So how and why are these effects so toxic?

Well what does a ‘like’ really mean? In is simplest form, a ‘like’ is a momentary click of a button to acknowledge a post of another person, whether this be on a beach somewhere exotic, or at a fancy restaurant. It is pleasing to the eye and therefore we ‘like’ it. The true toxic nature of this form of communication is how it is received. As the ‘like’ numbers increase, as do our endorphins and subsequently so does our self-worth. However, how often do people ‘like’ things on Instagram and not actually ‘like’ it? Semantics are distorted in the virtual world; a ‘like’ on Instagram, a lot of the time, is a fleeting double tap of the finger and then instantaneously forgotten about. Ultimately, our own sense of self-worth is dependent on other people’s momentary finger-tap.   

Considering that social media forums like Instagram are now an intrinsic part of children’s lives, the cause for concern has heightened. If children are learning to validate people through a screen, then perhaps it’s time to do something to change this misconception. Likes do not equal neither popularity nor worthiness, and yet teens are obsessed with the number of ‘likes’ on their photos. Given that humans are instinctively competitive creatures who compare themselves to others, a feeling of comparative ineptitude is an escapable problem.

So, what do humans do? We seek help and advice. Of course, the irony is that what causes teens so much angst also acts as a vehicle to promote good mental health and wellbeing. Instagram is flooded with self-help gurus whose advice manifests itself in meditation, healthy eating and yoga. However, this is where social media comes full circle, as teens resort to comparing themselves with this small percentage of women who do manage to stick to the tripartite mantra of well-being gurus, and consequently feel inadequate. 

The effects on the human brain are toxic, but even more so for those brains that are developing and maturing. What, therefore, is the solution?

We must be mindful. By being aware of the growing attachment to social media, we should learn to manage our digital lives and avoid becoming slaves to ‘likes’. Of course we must not blame ourselves or our children for the compulsive need to check Instagram daily, as these networks have been skillfully designed to keep us coming back for more. We must practice “digital detoxing” and teach the younger generation the importance of finding pleasures away from their screens. The positives of social media have been widely discussed and the ease of ability in connecting with others is self-evident. Despite this, we mustn’t allow it to infiltrate into our conscious minds and warp our perceptions of what self-worth means forever.

By Tilly St Aubyn