Frantically, you reach into your pocket. With sweaty, eager palms, you see it sitting comfortably in your phone’s notifications: one new like. Your eyes light up. A slight smile forms across your face. That validation you so desperately wanted has finally arrived.
It’s a good feeling, getting that “like.” I’ll admit it: I’ve spent time glowing after seeing the sheer amount of likes I’ve received on an Instagram photo. The first time I had a photo reach over 100 little hearts, I was practically giddy. Seeing my Facebook status adorned with comments and likes, seeing my Snapchat story’s number of views rise… these were the reasons I used social media – for that affirmation. Now I’ve begun to question the point of it all.
I’ve seen a few articles make their rounds recently (and by “make their rounds,” I of course mean they’ve showed up in my social media feeds a lot) concerning social media and its unhealthy appeal to people’s narcissism. One of these articles even details a recent study linking excessive selfie-taking to psychopathy.
After scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day, I began to realize just how horrific some users’ obsessive vanity is. Selfie after selfie after g**damn selfie, all from the same person in the same exact pose as every other one of their attention-seeking photos. Pictures of food — of my friends’ 20-piece Chicken McNugget dinner-for-two they’re so inexplicably proud of — with approval numbers skyrocketing by the minute. That admiration, that endorsement of one’s existence, is like an addiction.
But is social media turning users into narcissists? Or are social media users inherently self-devoted, and these social services are merely platforms for them to advance their self-involvement? It’s a classic case of which-came-first: the selfie or the ego?
A recent article regarding a 2014 study provides support for the idea that social media is helping fuel users’ self-absorption. Utilizing a “Narcissistic Personality Inventory” for social media consumers to take along with a record of their usage statistics, the researchers behind the study found that an “excess of self-love” does, in fact, feed use of sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Social media is seemingly built on the foundation of self-promotion. Look at Facebook, at the very top of your feed: “What’s on your mind?” Look at the numerous profile picture changes that have occurred within the past week or so. Look at some of your friends’ profiles, at the ridiculous number of friends displayed on their pages. Look at the feed on the sidebar, constantly providing updates on the likes and comments and posts your friends are making. While the social aspects are certainly there, a large portion of it is instead focused on the idea of adoration.
It is for this reason that I’ve begun to pull myself away from social media. These services have become (or, more likely, always have been) a breeding ground for egotism, for self-importance. I now see Facebook as a place for my friends to prove to their followers how funny or smart or interesting they are through posting status updates and sharing news articles. I see Tumblr and Instagram as torrential showers of “look at me!” Even Reddit, a news aggregator slash social networking site, is based upon the concept of amassing Internet points.
While the solution to this perceived problem is simple (lowering usage of social media), I think we should be more concerned with the emotional and mental stunting this constant need for affirmation may have on dedicated social networkers, especially younger users. With a perpetual need for others to boost their self-esteem, how will teenagers learn to provide it for themselves? What sort of self-worth will they have if somebody isn’t constantly reminding them how cute or funny or smart they are?
Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, that’s for sure, but if you feel you may be gaining too much of your self-esteem from the approval of others, it may be a good idea to take a step back and look at the way you’re using online networking. That new like on your afternoon selfie? Those new comments on your absolutely H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S account of your day? They can wait. There are far better ways to gain self-worth than by checking your phone each time you hear that little chirp.
By: Daniel Dell-Cornejo