People love to compare everything and always try to use some metrics. People compile the lists of best athletes, best hotels and best places for vacations. Listicles are often the most popular articles on any resource. We are used to translate qualities into numbers and sometimes we do it way too often.

With all the hype around social networks in 2010s, we started to think that quality of our online presence can be measured in numbers. The simple act of approval of someone’s content becomes less and less valuable, becoming just another “plus one”.

In real life we would appreciate when someone comes to us and says “hey, dude, you are awesome, I like your art and get inspired by what you are doing”. In the online world, all our achievements, big and small, become our status updates of similar importance. Reactions of different people seem to be equally important, even if they are not.

When it’s as easy as double tap to approve someone’s work, we start expecting more and more people doing this for our own creations. This evolution of our expectations leads to some problems:

We tend to think that number of likes reflects the quality of our content. That one article or image is better than another only because it is liked by more people. In fact this does not have anything common with reality. So much depends on the context in which your content is shown that it says absolutely nothing about the quality.

We tend to think that amount of followers reflects our importance. Way too many people dream about a career of a social media influencer. They are obsessed about converting real people into “plus ones” for the sake of getting advertising gigs from the brands.

We are getting worried when we don’t get enough likes. It starts to be physical because we don’t get the dopamine our bodies expect. We are all junkies - it’s just not alcohol or opiates what we craving. Some creators can feel great injustice in what they feel as underestimation of their efforts, and even get depressed. Just think about it: people get really ill because of lack of virtual appreciation. We already know that algorithms hide our content, that act of liking is essentially devalued, etc - but our suffering is real!

We are wasting our time on reaching false goals. We are getting into a number game like a rat race. We are chasing the goals that are based on false assumptions but we are getting our dopamine when we have success and we want to repeat it. As a game addict in a casino, we can’t stop and we waste more and more time on social networks. The time which could be used somewhere else.

Social Media is getting killed by bots. Because it’s not possible to grow all these metrics both organically and quickly, more and more people are using automation to send “attention spam” to thousands of netizens. They want to get more likes to feel appreciation of their work. They want to feel important of having a lot of followers. They want to guarantee their daily dopamine shots. It’s all understandable (we are all people after all), but resorting to bots they are killing the idea of social networking even more. Of all “plus ones” that we are talking about so much in this article, the bigger and bigger part is generated by machines. It devalues the meaning of like even more, because there’s no more act of aesthetical/emotional appreciation, but cold and quick mechanical action done by a robot.

So far, we only uncovered the problems - what about solutions?

I don’t want to be radical and propose deleting your accounts. This might work for some people, but it’s similar to treatment of a headache with decapitation.

In my opinion, the first step we all need to do in order to become happier and respectful to our own time, is to accept that numbers game is toxic.

We should stay happy and keep self esteem regardless of number of followers and likes. We should understand that algorithms of social networks are optimised for making us spending more time with them (and thus seeing more ads).

We should stand against the abuse of the idea of social networks by reporting accounts that use bots (and of course, never using them). We should refuse buying promotions for our content (it does not work as intended anyway).

We should only act as good netizens ourselves and show genuine appreciation which requires more than just pressing a heart icon. We should convert “plus ones” back into something meaningful. Only follow the content you really like and take your time to write meaningful comments to its creators.

Only connect with people who really make something good for you. Take your time to enjoy people’s feedback when they do the same for you. This is what differentiates us from machines. Stay human.

Photo by Trần Toàn on Unsplash

UPDATE 25.01.2019. I stumbled upon some great articles from other authors that in some ways extend the ideas of my article. I also encourage you to read them and get additional motivation to liberate yourself from numbers addiction:

Is it still possible to grow on Instagram in 2019 by Charles Tumiotto Jackson (Medium paywall)

Why I quit Instagram: breaking the cycle by Txus Bach

How Instagram Steals Your Soul by Cameron Watson (Medium paywall)

And a great lengthy post about FOMO (Fear of Missing out) which is one of the things that lead us to the numbers game and that is a very similar problem by itself:

The Fear of Missing Out: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Instagram by Mark Manson