Lately, I’ve started to distrust the Internet.
The statement itself has a bit of humor to it. The word “lately” begs to be scoffed at: as if the sudden and current realization that the Internet is a distrustful place is somehow noteworthy. That moment of awareness is a luxury only afforded to senior citizens and children. I’m a 24 year-old, and by virtue of being 24, I represent the very worst of my self-loathing, hyperaware generation. I’m already supposed to know this.
And believe me, I do know this. Like most of us, I understand the flimsy nature of the Internet. I know that anonymity makes flagrant lies and obvious trolling possible. I know that a person’s online profile is less about sincerity and more about meticulously crafting a desired image. I know never to trust a selfie photographed from “that” angle, I’ve learned about “catfishing” and, thankfully, I have learned to skip the YouTube comments section.
But the thing I’ve only now started to distrust isn’t that obvious. I am referring to all manners of “likes” on the Internet.
This includes follows, subscriptions, diggs, up-votes, views, or any other social media currency. I distrust them, but I don’t deny their effectiveness. It is incredibly useful and fun to have some sort of quantitative social value system to help users sort between what is good and not-good and, If I am being honest, I hope that this page gets all sorts of likes and follows. I hope whoever is reading up-votes me to a higher plateau of diggs and subscriptions that will finally satisfy my creative and personal need for affirmation.
Because, let’s face it: I want all the likes in the world. I want people to like me. I want admiration, acceptance and success. Most people want these things. Most people work a lifetime in search of these concepts. Most people figure if they work hard, contribute to society in a meaningful way, and generally help other people in their search for meaning, that they too will obtain some measure of respect. That seems normal to me: a healthy level of respect for a moderately ambitious life.
I can’t help it. Whenever I receive a “like” or a “follow,” I feel like I am achieving these goals. It may be a very small step towards these goals, but it makes me feel good. When I get a lot of likes, I feel even better.
But if there is one thing you should know about me, it is this: I distrust when something conveniently makes me feel good about myself.
I know how I like things on the Internet. I like them without much thought. I sometimes like things on the toilet, or when I am waiting for bread to turn into toast. I tend to like things by people I am attracted to and I have no problem liking a picture of a smart outfit or a cute couple I know. I sometimes like people I pity, as a strange way of motivating them to keep going forward. If liking cost money I would never, ever like anything. Ever.
The truth is, I take the fraction of a second to touch the screen on my smartphone because it is free and vaguely communicates to another human being “Hey, I saw this and I approved.”
And the more I think about it, the more I really start to hate the entire system.
I don’t think I want to feel good about a vague form of consequence free communication. I don’t want to feel good when roughly 20 out of 600 odd friends, family, and acquaintances spend 0.4 seconds to acknowledge something I already expected to be acknowledged.
Likes are basically meaningless. There isn’t much weight behind a like or a follow, and if there was any weight, I don’t even know what I would do with it. Getting thousands of likes seems to be good for two things: getting more likes and impressing people who value likes. This is very troubling for me, because I don’t want to do either of those things.
I want to become a good writer. I want people to appreciate and enjoy the things I create. I want influence, popularity, prestige, respect, and admiration. And I want to gain all of these things delighting people with the stuff I create. These real desires are abstract concepts that truly can’t be measured in numbers. I can’t quantify the percentage of respect and joy my work brings people.
But the tempting possibility that I could quantify these things is why likes exist. I want likes to mean something, but sadly, they rarely do. I want my number of followers to indicate some measure of success that I could feel good about, but that simply isn’t reality.
Here is reality.
On the same day that this is being written, the most popular video on YouTube is a “close-call compilation”. This is a video that showcases three minutes of people almost being severely injured. The most popular image on Reddit is two relatively handsome men in line at an airport, the most popular image on Pinterest is Doctor Who inspired bookshelf, and the most popular image on Instagram was of Beyoncé boarding a plane
No matter how hard I try, I will never beat Beyoncé boarding a plane. Beyoncé’s tedium is, according to the Internet, the type of content the people want.
I think if someone I really respected told me they enjoyed my work, that would mean something to me. If some of my all-time favorite creative people followed my work in order to see more of it, I would feel great. If Alexander Pope somehow came back from the dead and praised me in the way I structured my thoughts, I would sincerely feel good about myself.
But I can’t get behind feeling good about what is essentially the Internet version of eye contact. When the value system you base your work on is being dominated by fluffy cats and car crashes, it’s time to find a new value system.
Unless my goals in life are to make the best compilations of animals walking on their hind legs, than e-fame and Internet likes aren’t something I should worry about. I don’t think it is something anyone should even think about, and I personally will try to resist the temptation to judge the value of things based on how popular they are on the Internet.
It will be hard though. It’s discouraging to see an absence of Internet likes and fall into the trap of wanting them. It’s easy to assume that when something get’s liked on the internet, it is inherently a positive thing. From there, it is easy to start changing what you say and do in order to get more followers and more subscribers. It’s easy to start creating content with the goal of gaining likes, tragically believing that in doing so, you are undeniably experiencing real growth — artistically and personally.
I’m glad I wrote this, and it feels good to have the thoughts in written form. I would like people to read it and I would hope they enjoyed it. I’d appreciate if anyone does like or share this post, but one day, I would really love to not care either way.