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Letting Go of Loves and Likes: A Brief Social Media Experiment

Season 3, Episode 1 of Black Mirror (“Nosedive”) paints a grim yet accurate picture of how firmly social media grips our lives. If you haven’t watched the episode, I highly recommend it. After having watched “Nosedive,” I spent hours with several friends discussing how realistic the episode was and how terrified we were to think of how closely our society resembles the episode’s universe. Yet despite Black Mirror’s warnings, we continued to bury ourselves with social media.

Post “Nosedive,” I justified my use of social media by arguing that I wasn’t an addict. After all, I didn’t feel a need to post, and I didn’t suffer from anxiety during phone-free periods. Nevertheless, I did find myself disgusted by social media’s complicated political environment.

For instance, there is an unspoken rule on Instagram: if you want someone to like your pictures, you must also like theirs. What was once a place to share photos with friends has evolved into a battle for likes. Instagram’s competitive component negatively affects our self-esteem. Intangible “likes” are today’s universal measurement of whether people like you.

Consequently, Instagram’s stream of seemingly happy pictures often produces anxiety, undermines your self-esteem, and leads many to believe that their self-worth is measured by the tap of a screen.

Another potentially toxic component of social media is its so-called virtual “stories.” Through Snapchat and Instagram stories, users can post a series of pictures and videos to outline their daily adventures. Although these stories lack a “like” component, they can show you who has already “viewed” your story. 

These stories often have an unintended negative impact on these viewers, many of whom are stuck at home doing nothing.  One of the worst feelings is when you’re alone and sad and come across several wonderful stories that all seem to lack a crucial component: you.

One unfortunate weekend finally led me to take a brief break from social media. Via Instagram I came across a “story” belonging to a group of friends of mine who had gotten together. The next day as I sat and browsed through yet another wave of posts, I ran into several Instagram stories outlining the same videos and pictures. I delved deeper and soon discovered that while I was not invited to a friend’s event, nearly all of my other friends were.

I was hurt deeply, but what disturbed me wasn’t my absence from these posts (people have a right to have fun without me); it was the fact that I was so bothered to begin with. I never thought that social media would affect me this greatly. I hated how easily these posts left me feeling insecure and invisible. After talking to some friends, I finally decided to remove my Snapchat and Instagram apps for a week. (I needed Facebook for school, so that app remained.)

During my break I was relieved to find that I was not as attached and addicted to Instagram and Snapchat as I thought. I had no sudden urges to re-download the apps during my week-long break. This lack of impulses left me with the following question: how did Instagram and Snapchat have such a strong hold on my self-esteem?  

When I finally re-downloaded the apps a week later, I realized that the only reasons I maintain Snapchat and Instagram accounts are for the sake of satisfying my curiosity, staving off boredom, and feeding my fear of missing out (FOMO). Interestingly, I almost dreaded re-downloading the apps, partly because I did not want to know what people were doing and I definitely did not want to resume playing Instagram’s game of “likes.”

My brief experiment taught me to care less. At the end of the day, your closest friends are the ones who matter, not your vast legions of virtual acquaintances. Regardless of who “likes” what, trust me when I say that your closest friends will always love and support you. Your self-worth has nothing to do with the tap of a finger.

Tara is a senior at UC Davis who is pursuing a degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Her passions include 80's rock music and getting as many food samples as she can at Costco.
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