I’ll sell you my soul for a couple of likes
It’s estimated that the human mind can only remember and maintain stable relationships with about 150 people. That doesn’t apply to me though— I’ve got almost 700 Facebook friends!
I remember when I first got Facebook, almost a decade ago in 2008. I don’t just remember this because Facebook tells me when I got it, but because I distinctly remember injecting the needle into my young arms for the first time. The first post on my wall was obviously a self post. It read a little something like this:
“Hello errrrrrbody! I’ve got a Facebook, its 2 cool!! Add me as your friend!! pls”
At the time, I didn’t even have a single (online) friend. But that’s OK. I was laying the first bricks of my social media empire.
Let’s flash forward to a couple years later, sometime around 2011 I want to say. It was the prime of my life; I was a young buck in my high school, playing multiple sports, getting solid grades, and most importantly, having a friend list sitting around a lofty 300. I remember coming back from a summer vacation down in the U.S. Thanks to all the crappy Motel 8’s we stayed at, my family had to spend about a week on the road without a decent connection to the Internet. I was battling the classic symptoms of withdrawal; I was delirious, suffered reoccurring headaches, and my anxiety was through the roof.
I remember finally getting home, and tapping myself back into the sweet, sweet nectar of broadband Internet. I logged onto my Facebook immediately, just in case someone had died or a girl had asked me out on a date while I was off the grid. What I came back to was even better: a whopping 70 notifications. I couldn’t believe it; had the whole world gone mad in my absence? Was I the very foundation that held my friend group together? Was everyone OK?
It turns out that I had been tagged in a post about two days after I left by a certain friend of mine, asking lots of people what their summer plans were. What ensued were about 60 notifications’ worth of other people’s comments, likes, and plans. Nobody even mentioned my name in the comments. This was back before Facebook would consolidate multiple comments and likes into a single notification, so I had just experienced quite possibly the biggest tease of my lifetime.
Here’s what really makes the memory stand out: I asked my sister how many notifications she had gotten while we were gone. When she told me that she only got about 30 notifications, I laughed at her and told her I had 70. I was quite the douche back then. Talk about a vanity metric!
These days, I don’t usually get more than two or three notifications unless its because of a mass invite to some concert I don’t want to attend (or the RTA 902 group is getting lit up). I’ve got almost 700 friends, but it’s a peculiarity if something I post to my wall gets more than five likes. I’ve deactivated my account twice. In a way, you could say that my social media empire has fallen on some hard times.
Truth is, I’ve learned to care a lot less. Messenger is a useful tool for talking to people, but besides that, all Facebook can really do to hold on to me is dole out little red hits of dopamine. The colour of love and warmth, might I add. With almost 700 friends, you’d think that it gets hard to manage all the relationships. But we all know how it goes. Things are surprisingly simple when you actually talk and interact with about 5% of your total friends list.
Growing up with social media certainly skewed my understanding of value and sense of self. It really complicates things too if you’ve got some self-absorbed notion of popularity. The pressure to be seen, heard, liked… I’d be lying if I said I had completely gotten over it. Of course it feels good to post a photo to Instagram and be showered in likes and comments. To shout out to the world, “Notice me!” and hear an answer back. To match with someone on Tinder and feel validated about your looks. To make and receive these gestures takes such little effort that they might as well be hollow, but the way they can make someone feel is real.
It can be all too easy to build yourself up through an online persona. To be recognized, seen, and heard by more and more people is an insatiable pursuit. The thing is, it’s baked into our human nature. When our ancestors were living in small tribes hundreds of thousands of years ago, to be social was to survive. You needed to band together if you were going to take down that woolly mammoth and eat for a month. Our brains evolved to remember and maintain the social bonds that promoted survival; Dunbar’s number, the stat that I first brought up in this long-winded post. Social media posturing is a natural evolution of our survival instincts, if you think about it. Likes, retweets, matches on Tinder… All these things help us move up our own perceived social hierarchies. Metrics that we see as valuable in getting our own empires off the ground. The instincts have been there all along, but now we just have an abundance of tools to quantify them.
How did social media shape your understanding of self worth and value growing up? Did you ever experience the same thirst for vanity metrics? Let me know in the comments! And please give this article a like, it does wonders for my self esteem…