Keep it for yourself

I was out to breakfast with my parents and sister last week when this exchange happened. Our food arrived at the table and we each eagerly eyed each others selections: tofu rancheros, french toast with ginger maple butter, a vegan benedict. Dad took out his phone and snapped a photo of my sister’s plate.

“Where are you going to post that, Dad? You don’t use Facebook!”

“Imagine that”, I teased. “A photo for the sake of having the photo”.

She was joking, as was I, but it set me off on the trail of thought I’m currently walking down.

Social media provides many things, but chiefly among them is validation. It comes in the form of “likes” and “retweets”, tagged photos, check-ins and product reviews. It manifests in a thousand little ways. Between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram alone, we possess an astounding ability to form a thought or take a photo, publish it online, and receive nearly instantaneous validation. The internet, for all its vastness, makes your world feel smaller by helping you feel wanted or heard, even if by strangers.

I had a five hour car ride back to Vermont today, and was thinking about the unavoidable feedback you get with posting anything on a social network. Take this essay, for instance. Conundrum: I want to use the power of the internet to broadcast something to my peers while eschewing the validation. No “Likes”, no comments. On Facebook this simply isn’t possible, and intentionally so. The feedback and social validation is part of the very DNA of a platform like Facebook.


Why would I, or anybody, wish to avoid the validation provided for free by sharing something on social media? While the answer to this question would vary widely person-to-person, I have an explanation that makes sense to me, and it’s to do with intrinsic value.

Intrinsic value, or intrinsic motivation, is a concept I first came to know in college while studying game design. To be intrinsically motivated is to engage in an activity for the unadulterated, inherent value of that activity. To be unconcerned with any resulting effects of taking part in that activity to begin with. The counterpart to an intrinsic activity is an extrinsic activity, for which you take part in for reasons other than your sole enjoyment, or to instigate a secondary outcome.

There exists both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations when it comes to social media, but it’s the balance—or imbalance—of the two that is concerning. Though its effects are subtle, the continual validation provided by social media becomes addicting, supplying a steady drip of dopamine. There is a real danger that the need for validation shifts our motivations for doing an activity or sharing content in the first place.

Consider: when you spend five minutes carefully composing a photograph during your weekend trip, who are you taking the photograph for? Is the intent of a Facebook status or a tweet simply to share the information, a one-to-many broadcast, or is it to elicit a response?

The point of asking these questions is not to suggest that intentionally seeking validation is not worthwhile, but rather to ask whether certain activities are more enjoyable when driven solely by intrinsic motivations. If we only take photos for the benefit of others, might we forget the inherent pleasure of capturing a beautiful moment and saving it just for ourselves or a special individual? If we write only for others, might we forget the catharsis of emptying our brain into a journal? If we are constantly attuned to the aspects of our lives that we wish to share on the internet, might we unintentionally overlook entire swaths of our interests that can not be shared in a Facebook status?

In a sentence: as social media continues to permeate all the as-yet dim corners of the modern world, maybe it’d be wise to intentionally recognize that some things are for our own enjoyment, and not that of our social networks. So take photos for the memory and don’t share them. Write a novel because you can and don’t let anybody read it. Do something nice for a stranger and tell nobody.

Keep it for yourself.


This is Day 3 of my intention to write something every day in 2016.