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It is not at all uncommon today to check out a café or an eatery’s Instagram before heading over for mouthwatering (or rather, Instagrammable) grub. If you are someone whose hunger is driven by Insta-likes rather than appetite, do read on. All of us, at some point or another, have found ourselves weeks deep in an individual’s Instagram, scrolling deeper with each upload. This media is an apt homage to food, travel and fitness–buzzwords of the 21st century. As an increasingly popular photo-sharing platform, it has steadily replaced Facebook to become the new ‘cool’. Communication today is facilitated through the Insta-intelligent channel of hashtags.

I agree that language undergoes chronological evolution, which is definitely positive. My worry is that #foodgasm, #goals and #fitspo are increasingly considered the ‘ideal’. Fourth year Monash Law student Kylie explains, “A person’s Instagram account is basically utopia for its followers”. She believes (and rightly so) that individuals lead different lives, have different goals and different personalities. Instagram has the uncanny knack of merging these into one timeline and presenting them as a glossy, filtered photo album.

Speaking with reference to the university cohort, if one has a look at random Instagram accounts, chances are 9 out 10 it will be littered with messages that speak to our self-esteem. Let me explain. A friend of mine joined the Instagram community a few months ago. Given her sporadic posting, her recent post of camping in Mongolia received an influx of comments such as “Hey, your Insta is coming along well!” or “Working on our feed, are we?” That was all she needed to jump on to the #aesthetic bandwagon. The likes increased from a trickle to a steady stream. It grew awkward when a stroll in the city could not be completed without her posting a mandatory #Melbournedoneright photo. Over lunch, I asked her if she’d had a good day. “Yeah, it was fantastic”, and she thrust the phone in my hand to show me the +200 likes on her photo against the Royal Exhibition Building.

It struck me then. Social media teaches us to prioritise quantity over quality. Happiness and satisfaction arise from the number of likes and comments, and the more the merrier. This also illustrates the rise of a new millennial generation simply known as ‘followers’. They may or may not include your mates. Some, you might not even know personally. Others, you might hesitate to approach when at the movies or a club. Yet, they are your followers, whose opinion can make or break your mood – through the amount of ‘likes’ of course. They bless your feed by idly scrolling through the dozen or so photos you upload and randomly liking them, because, hey, as followers, granting mutual approval is a must! New media, new rules.

Understandably then, when approval is closely linked to the amount of followers, every like further convinces us that indeed, the renovated bedroom with the world map wall décor is ‘bedroom goals’. We live in an age of likes. I like to refer to them as ‘validators’, exactly the purpose they serve. Seeking validation from others is a safe road to disappointment. Likes, reactions, comments, are surely a self-esteem booster but they should not be what one’s self-esteem is based on. To give an example, I overheard a conversation while on the bus the other day. Two friends were gossiping about their mate Jack’s trip to Europe and hungrily browsing through his Instagram feed. Jack had been hobnobbing across lesser-known cities and had a marvelous feed, said Friend A. Then he laughed, “What a life, man, lucky bastard!” The other, B, gave a limp smile and shared that his gig as a barista didn’t bless him with that kind of cash.

I felt sorry for B. He was indulging in unwarranted comparisons. As social animals, we do have an evolutionary tendency to evaluate ourselves with respect to others. Social media accentuates differences between our lives more clearly than ever before, such that we are no longer evaluating ourselves: it is now a matter of competition. Filtered images or some unfiltered ones captured most meticulously – these are only samples of an individual’s life. They include the best and happiest moments that might, at times, be manufactured just for the sake of Instagram. We tend to wrongly generalise these circumstances to understand them as the person’s ‘life’, which is highly misleading and often the cause for depression associated with social media use. Undue comparisons begin creeping in and these are damaging to one’s mental health.

This is also why I dislike the term ‘goals’. The only goals we should set are our own, instead of using another’s life as a benchmark. However, this trend functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy. No, we may not really care about the time our friend Tim interned with the New York Times, but you look at the post for a while, see the likes filtering in, and note Tim’s toothy smile as he sits at a polished desk and wonder how well he is ‘slaaayying’. It affects us on a sub-conscious level although we hate to admit it. That explains why we consider such posts to be #goals. But remember, that was Tim’s goal. Is it yours? The more we dwell on it, the more ‘determined’ we feel to work on ourselves to post something bigger, brighter, better. The cycle continues. This ‘motivation’ arises from an external source and fuels unhealthy comparison instead of an internal source that serves to build genuine contentment.

The solution lies in treating Instagram as just another social platform and not a personal photo-diary that it has become. Every meal, every trip, every new purchase does not merit the world’s attention. It’s all right and advisable, if I may add, to enjoy life without clicking and uploading half of it. Be hungry, be ambitious, but not for likes.

Devika Pandit

The author Devika Pandit

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