Loving life without likes
published : 22 Jul 2019 at 04:30
newspaper section: Asia focus
Congratulations, the world has officially entered the age of Generation Snowflake!
If you saw the 1996 Brad Pitt film Fight Club, you might be familiar with one of its more memorable lines: "You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake." Though the word "snowflake" has been used as an insult for over a century, it was used in a different context from today.
This particular line from the movie struck a chord and the term took off to describe someone who is overly sensitive or someone who feels entitled to special treatment. It has been used mostly to refer to Millennials (age in 2019: 25-42) and Generation Z (age in 2019: 7-24).
Generation Snowflake consists of those who became adults in the 2010s. They are seen to be less resilient, more prone to taking offence, emotionally vulnerable, oversensitive and furiously intolerant of those who challenge their opinions. Many admit that they are to some extent -- if not extremely -- narcissistic.
Thanks to the ubiquity of social media, the desire to feed that narcissism has become more profound. The number of likes and engagements one has for posts on image-focused sites such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat has become a prime measure of social acceptance and affirmation. For some people the quest for likes leads to addiction and obsession.
While social media can be used as a platform to share positive thoughts and lively discussions, many believe such sites are also fuelling a mental health crisis and having severe negative effects on self-esteem and self-identity. Feelings of inadequacy run high, especially among Generation Snowflake.
Instagram has taken notice of this trend and has introduced a trial programme in several countries to hide the number of likes on a post. The main purpose, a spokesperson said, is to remove pressure and minimise stress on users.
Instragrammers see the number of likes as a measurement of success and popularity. For those who make a living as influencers, this can make them very rich. For many others, likes instantly boost their self-esteem or bring them down if they don't get as many as they hoped for.
Currently, any Instagram user can see a running total of people who have liked a post, whether from themselves or someone else. Under the trial programme, only the person who posted the picture will see the total. Other users will only see the total likes being labelled as "and others".
As a former Instagram addict who thankfully decided to leave the platform a few years ago, I came to realise after exhaustive attempts to snap the picture-perfect moment, followed by obsessive photo editing, that there is so much more in life beyond the screen and this obsession with likes.
At the end of the day, those ephemeral feelings of self-indulgence from being a social media superstar are only temporary, unsustainable and can even be toxic. When you look closer, many of those "likes" are perhaps just pseudo-acceptance or an act of reciprocation. There is no real human connection, no sharing of energy, no conversation or value of any kind.
In real life, there are only a handful of people who will really be there for you when times get tough. They may not even be on those platforms to constantly give you "likes".
I don't think it is a coincidence that more and more young people are being diagnosed with severe depressive symptoms such as loneliness, sadness, hopelessness or suicidal thoughts. Many studies have revealed a correlation between screen time, social media usage and mental illness.
Maybe it's time for us to see that the path to building sustainable and positive mental health and wellbeing starts from within.
Often, we are our own greatest enemies to achieving peace, stability and happiness. We let external factors, criticisms and judgements of other people determine who we are and the level of happiness we deserve to have. We often compare ourselves to others and put ourselves down.
Imagine if all the social media platforms eliminated likes once and for all. Maybe humankind will start to see that true happiness comes only from within, not from how others perceive you.
Maybe we will start to believe, love and accept ourselves the way we are. Maybe we will finally get out of this trap of wanting to be like someone else and feel comfortable in our own skins.