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Unmasking the Social Media Illusion: How the Pursuit of Likes Impacts Our Mental Health

Unmasking the Social Media Illusion: How the Pursuit of Likes Impacts Our Mental Health
Photo Credit To: Marjet Van Wijk

In today’s digital age, where a simple ‘like’ can sometimes outweigh a heartfelt hug or a genuine compliment, we find ourselves trapped in the vast universe of social media. Picture yourself cozy on your couch, sipping your favorite beverage, phone in hand. A notification pops up, and suddenly, you’re involved in a distant cousin’s wedding festivities who lives halfway across the globe. Platforms like Instagram act as magical portals, bridging distances and making us feel a part of moments we might have otherwise missed. It’s a benefit of this time. But, as with all things, this light has a shadow. While posting our top achievements, the moments that make us beam with pride, we often leave behind the tales of our struggles, the days we felt lost or overwhelmed. We’re in a world where our victories are posted for all to see. Still, our battles are often fought behind closed doors, away from the world’s prying eyes, because we care about our privacy. But what does it do to us mentally to get bombarded with other people’s constant highlights? Jet Van Wijk, known by many as Jet, the CEO and Founder of Laptop Lifestyle Master Program, has offered profound insights into the complex relationship between social media and mental health in today’s digital age.

Jet delved into the impact of social media on our lives, highlighting both its positive and negative aspects. She emphasized the role of social media as a bridge connecting people across vast distances. However, she also sheds light on the shadowy side of this virtual realm, where people tend to showcase their triumphs while concealing their struggles, creating an illusion of perfection. She pointed out a concerning trend in the digital landscape: the subtle influence of likes and engagement on the content we choose to share. She illustrated this phenomenon by comparing two different memories.

Imagine you’re sharing two distinct memories: a beach sunset that took your breath away and a cherished old car that’s been with you through thick and thin. As the ‘likes’ start pouring in, you notice the beach photo is a clear winner, while your dear car is left in the shadows. Even if that car symbolizes many memories, adventures, and stories, the sunset captivates your audience more. This sets a silent, often subconscious benchmark. If serene landscapes get applause, why not share more of them? Now, the example was a sunset and a car, but when we look at many youths, they might be comparing how many likes a nice photo with their family dog got versus how many likes a picture of them in a bikini gets. Gradually, we begin to tailor our online persona, often sidelining our genuine passions, interests, and morals. It brings us to a crossroads: Are we truly in control of our social media narrative, or have we become players in a game designed by others? The hunger for online recognition can cloud our judgment, making us do things and post things we usually wouldn’t. 

The Impact of Online Validation

The battle for attention increases as we enter the dazzling and often overwhelming world of celebrities and influencers. Picture yourself crafting a heartfelt post, perhaps about a personal achievement or a cherished memory. You’ve chosen the perfect filter, penned down your emotions, and with a hopeful heart, you hit ‘post.’ Hours go by, and while your post does receive some appreciation, it’s nowhere near the viral numbers you see on a celebrity’s feed. Their post, perhaps similar in content, skyrockets with likes, comments, and shares, reaching numbers in the thousands or even millions. It’s like a tiny pinprick, an almost jab to your self-worth.

This vast chasm between your modest engagement and their meteoric numbers becomes even more pronounced for the younger generation, many of whom are in the delicate phase of self-discovery. For them, every like or comment isn’t just a mere notification; it’s a validation of their choices, their experiences, and, by extension, their very identity. In this high-stakes arena where numbers often equate to worth, not making the ‘cut’ can be disheartening. As social media weaves deeper into our society, there’s a noticeable and alarming uptick in mental health issues. The youth, in particular, seem to be impacted the most. With their self-worth often hinging on online validation, the constant comparisons and perceived inadequacies can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and even depression.

Unveiling the Algorithms and The Vortex of Self-Comparison

Jet also pulled back the curtain on the algorithms driving social media platforms, emphasizing how they curate our online experiences based on our interactions. This curated content can contribute to a sense of inadequacy and self-comparison, trapping users in a never-ending cycle of scrolling and seeking validation.

Envision this scenario: You’re casually browsing and pausing to admire a post featuring a celebrity, perhaps someone like Kylie Jenner. Before you know it, your feed transforms into a Kylie-fest, with similar posts trying to get your attention. It’s as if you’re caught in a whirlwind, constantly being presented with what the platform thinks you’ll find appealing rather than the fresh updates from your friends and family. This curated experience can be mentally taxing, leading to a vortex of self-comparison and potential feelings of inadequacy because you keep seeing the same type of content and get stuck in a rabbit hole, scrolling away.  

From a scientific perspective, our brains have evolved to prioritize rewarding experiences. Every like, comment, or new follower on social media platforms triggers a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to feelings of pleasure and reward. This sensation can be likened to a natural high, creating a sense of euphoria that many find hard to resist. As a result, we often find ourselves returning to these platforms, seeking that next hit of validation. For younger users, this cycle can be particularly dangerous. Many have grown up in the digital age, with social media integral to their daily lives. Without proper understanding and guidance, they might not recognize the potential risks of this constant pursuit of online attention. 

Setting Boundaries and Staying Grounded

Unmasking the Social Media Illusion: How the Pursuit of Likes Impacts Our Mental Health

Photo Credit To: Marjet Van Wijk

Jet emphasized that social media isn’t a villain in our story. It has revolutionized communication, bridged gaps, and even paved the way for innovative career paths. But, as we navigate this space, it’s crucial to remind ourselves and the upcoming generation that the online world often showcases a polished version of reality, omitting the trials and tribulations that are an inherent part of life.

So all is not lost. There are strategies to have a balanced and healthy relationship with social media. Here are a few things you can do: 

  1. Digital Retreat: Think of it as a vacation for your mind. Regularly unplug from the digital chaos. Set aside specific times of the day or even entire days to detox from social media and reconnect with the world outside screens.
  2. Crafting a Positive Digital Environment: Be proactive in curating your online space. Engage with content that uplifts and inspires. Distance yourself from sources of negativity or those that dampen your spirit(unfollow!)
  3. Establishing Clear Boundaries: Allocate specific times for social media and stick to them. 
  4. Staying Grounded: It’s crucial to remember that everyone, from your next-door neighbor to global celebrities, faces challenges. Resist the urge to measure your life against a filtered snapshot.
  5. Embracing Gratitude: Celebrate the beauty in your life. Instead of longing for someone else’s experiences, treasure your unique journey and be grateful daily. The grass isn’t always greener. 

On the one hand, the world of social media offers connectivity, bringing distant worlds to our fingertips and allowing us to share and celebrate life’s moments. On the other, it can distort our perception of reality, emphasizing the highlights while often sidelining the challenges. As we learn to live with social media, AI, and the digital world, creating a sense of self-awareness and resilience is crucial. We must teach ourselves and the younger generation to know the difference between the virtual and the real, to value genuine connections over fleeting online validations, and to understand that our worth isn’t determined by the number of ‘likes’ or followers.

Jet’s message serves as a poignant reminder that social media, despite its potential as a powerful tool for connection and self-expression, should be approached with mindfulness. It’s crucial to prioritize authentic connections over fleeting online validations. Our sense of self-worth should never hinge on the mere number of likes or followers. Instead, let’s aim to engage with social media in a balanced way that enhances our lives rather than allowing it to dictate our emotions and well-being.

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