The Social Media Epidemic

Last week, I made an InstaGram account for my dance team. Within five minutes of creating the account, the first posted picture received 103 likes (which means that, within five minutes, 103 people had to accept our follow request, look at our picture, and click the little heart button). To be completely honest, I was a little jealous. My InstaGram pictures get the same 10 likes from the same 10 people every time I post (and it usually takes a day or two for my pictures to accumulate those 10 likes) (I am not bashing on those 10 friends by the way. I appreciate your support). I feel especially special when the caption goes from listing the people who like it to just saying “12 likers”.

For some reason, we hold the ‘liking’ sacredly. It is like, if you ‘like’ too many statuses or ‘like’ too many pictures, it takes away from the importance and effect. Or, perhaps we don’t want to have too much activity on social media, because that means we have no life and somehow that makes us a lesser person. But let’s face it, we are all refreshing our feeds continuously anyways. We see the same picture and the same status five times a day because we honestly don’t have enough friends to have a feed that is endlessly changing and updating and sprouting new material.

So, I tried an experiment where I started ‘liking’ everyone’s pictures and statuses on Facebook and InstaGram that I found any morsel of insight or entertainment in. And sometimes, I didn’t even look at the picture or the status. I just liked it to see what would happen. I always feel very supportive when I ‘like’ other people’s stuff, as if I am in some kind of counseling group with them and I am affirming whatever they posted is cool/funny/(or for those really dramatic statuses), that they in fact have a really shitty boyfriend. Sure enough, the more I ‘supported’ other people, the more people who started ‘supporting’ me by liking my own stuff. Or, I would leave a comment on someone’s status/picture that I barely talked to and sure enough, for the next five things I posted, they liked whatever it was. It is like a mutual understanding–you like/stalk my stuff, I will like/admit to stalking your stuff. What a intrinsically selfless supportive world we live in.

(On a side note but really related to this topic, did anyone happen to catch that really entertaining family feud of ours that blew up everyone’s Facebooks? Thanks for supporting us with all of your ‘likes’ and concerned calls! I know now whose news feeds I actually turn up on).

After this extremely superficial experiment, I decided it was time to start cleaning up my news feed. For one, the babies and marriages have slightly dwindled and for two, I barely have enough time to shower, so why would I have time to read your status about what utterly normal human event you are partaking in today or what love song you want to dedicate to your significant other (gag)? So, if I felt you did not enhance my knowledge of the world in any way, I un-followed you. You made the cut if you post sarcastic statuses, interesting articles, go to cool places, have a cute baby, etc. You didn’t make the cut if you are always posting #selfies, complaining statuses, or things that are relatively average and boring. But, don’t worry. You will never know who you are.

(I also tried an experiment one time to figure out when the most people are active on social media, which happens to be Sunday nights/Monday afternoons. So, if you have something that you want a lot of people to see, wait until Sunday night/Monday afternoon to post it. The anticipation might kill you, I know, but it will be worth it).

In regards to social media, there are three divisions of people:

1. The Really Old People (Ages 30ish-Grandparents): These people have hardly any interaction with social media. And, if they do, they don’t understand how to turn their caps-lock off, so everything they post looks like they are screaming at you. They sometimes post messages intended for your inbox on your wall, because they don’t understand the difference, which could be potentially damaging/embarrassing. I remember trying to explain instant messaging to my grandpa in Iowa. He could not understand how someone could be on the other side of the computer, typing to you instantaneously. This is why we just write him letters.

2. The AIM Generation (Ages 20ish-29ish): We are the generation of kids who grew up with dial-up internet connection. I can type really fast because my sisters and I had 30 minute internet intervals so we had to learn to maximize our socialization. We use social media to catch up with our friends, stalk our ex-boyfriends to see how much hair they don’t have/how much weight they gained, see how cute/ugly our friend’s babies are, etc. I personally use my social media (and by social media, I mean the two that I have–InstaGram and Facebook) for my own personal benefits and not for anyone else–I really only post pictures so that, when I am having a bad day, I can browse my old pictures and statuses and confirm, “Oh yeah, I actually have a pretty good life and don’t need to be depressed/lonely”. Even my blog is something solely for me–I write for myself, so I can expound the thoughts bumping around in my head, to keep a virtual and un-deleteable diary of my ponderings of the world–and if other people want to read it, great.

3. The Social Media Junkies (Ages 19ish-however young kids are exposed to an iPad nowadays): These kids experiences’ of the outdoors include what they see on Grand Theft Auto, Angry Birds, and that Zombie-bike-racing game. Their entertainment includes that 60-20-40 game (apparently it is supposed to be stimulating/mathematical, but whenever I see my students playing it, they are just aimlessly jabbing their phones). Their phone batteries probably die by 9 AM and if their phone dies/you take it away from them (don’t worry, they would never leave it at home), they literally start experiencing physiological symptoms of anxiety–sweaty palms, increased heart palpitations, inattention, mumbling to themselves (I have seen this time and time again in my students). All of their communication takes place over group chat and they know all the handy aps. Your picture doesn’t fit into InstaGram’s square box? There’s an ap for that. You want to look skinnier and have bigger boobs in your picture? There’s an ap for that. You want to put more than one picture up but have already broken the social rule of posting more than three pictures a week? There’s an ap for that!

Social media also gives us the opportunity to create a desired identity. We want people to see us as really hip socialites? We dress up with our one friend, go outside our parent’s faux brick front house and take a couple pictures of us drinking fancy coffee. We want people to see us as really die-hard worker-outers? We take a couple gym selfies, post a few statuses of being at the gym (but what are we actually doing when we are in the gym? Walking on the treadmill? It always baffles me when people are on their phones at the gym. Like, shouldn’t you be working out hard enough that you are breathing too hard to talk?…). We want people to see how awesome our new job and new city and new friends are? We post a few statuses about how what cool cultural event we are going to this weekend, we write “inside jokes” on each others’ walls (of course, ended with a LOL or HAHA). Or, my personal favorite, we want everyone to know how AWESOME our relationship is and how AWESOME our significant other is. So, we post a bunch of kissy-kissy pictures together. We tag each other in a bunch of mushy-gushy statuses. We have a public appearance of being so much in love and we want everyone to be jealous of our unfaltering love for each other (and then we break up and mysteriously, everything disappears one day as if that ‘love’ never even existed–I am totally guilty of this).

I personally like to take on the online identity of being elusive and cyptic–no one quite knows what I am doing, where I am going, who I have been with. Then one day, BOOM, I post something out of nowhere and everyone wonders where that came from (and they have to make the decision–are they curious enough to break the social code of pretending they aren’t stalking me, or does their curiosity get the best of them?…)

The social media epidemic is definitely one pilferating (I know you have never heard that word before, but I am in grad school, so I can make words up) discourses across academia, across generations, across dinner tables. Of course, all the old people comment on how “technology is ruining our society and kids don’t know how to act properly anymore”. But then again, the Victorians once said that and look at what they had to communicate with. We look back on them and say, “they went to plays and read poems for entertainment”. In 100 years from now, scholars will look back on us and say, “they took pictures of themselves for fun”.

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