I’ve been volunteering at something called Alpha, which you may have heard of – if not, it’s a course organised by HTB church that allows anyone (especially non-believers) to ask questions about God in an open environment. One of the icebreakers to get conversation going is, “what do you think happiness means”. Overwhelmingly and perhaps even influenced by each other, the group nevertheless said that finding a purpose and achieving it was a measurement of happiness in life. In fact, data shows that 71% of us feel the need to know ourselves better. 68% of us feel the need to find purpose in life. This shit is deep. How the hell did something like Instagram even come into this?
If like me, you spend an unhealthy period of time on the app and perhaps even view it as an avenue of business or a gateway to another career, this 800 million user software (at the time of writing) is absolutely critical. It starts off as a measurement of creative talent, popularity or even pure validation. It transforms into a symbol of status and for some, a source of income. And as social media presence evolves, our identities are no longer online or offline but very much seamless. Our virtual actions directly and immediately impacts the opportunities or the money we make in the real world. Sad or true? Perhaps it’s both. If the world of social media makes you unhappy, even if people would consider you to be successful, this is why:
Depending on something like your own social media account for your livelihood, too early, presents multiple problems. Not least resentment that could lead to exhaustion and burn out. But even if you’re loving your full-time influencer job, there are certain things that you start to compromise or wrestle with just for that lucrative deal. Things like a job out of town that means missing an important personal event or a product that you kind of want to sell as soon as the campaign is over, becomes increasingly common. You may also find that you’re not really creating inspiring content anymore and just… selling out (to be blunt). Of course we can all name exceptions but we can point out even more that fit the bill.
So if finding happiness means a pursuit of meaningful goals in life that lead to a purpose, where does compromise and prioritising money above values fit in?
Popularity tied to numbers
Slightly personal here but I really rarely care if people dislike me in real life. If they’re someone I admire and I care for, then it affects me but generally, I’ve come to accept that people like what they want to like and believe what they want to hear. When it comes to social media, the very premise of your relevance depends on how much people like you. In turn, we tend to do things that please our audiences, just as any brand or company would. I asked the question, “have you ever seen a feed so aspirational that it put you off?”. Think about this because I’ll reveal the responses in a bit. I also used a poll to ask “do you prefer raw, BTS Insta Stories or beautifully curated ones?”
What did you choose? Quite a few people answered saying that they felt a lot of famous Instagram accounts had become ‘generic’ because they were so out of reach. Some felt that a lot of the accounts mimicked each other and had lost their individual personalities. If a few anecdotes aren’t enough, Kevin Systrom, founder of Instagram himself said that he no longer followed fashion bloggers and preferred accounts that prioritised creativity (such as architecture) over making people feel ‘slightly jealous’.
As it turns out, 10% more people also wanted BTS Stories than edited and carefully choreographed ones.
The word that consistently cropped up in the elaborations was ‘real’, despite how I never used that terminology when phrasing the question. Since when did an artistic eye for aesthetics become ‘not real’? The point here is that with all the incredible content on the platform, people are stretching out of their comfort zones trying to be what they deem as popular, trying to do something that doesn’t quite fit them all for the sake of competing for likes. And in the long run, you can see that this is harmful. Instagram promotes creativity not mimicry. People are calling out for authenticity – not just for #ad or no makeup days but meaningful insights into a person into which they’re investing their time and critically, their trust.
So even though there are accounts with 1 million following a tried and tested cookie cutter formula, it’s not a good idea to copy them because you’ll sacrifice what they don’t have – your personality. And if knowing yourself adds to happiness in life, isn’t following the formula for popularity the opposite of learning who you are?
photos by Luoana, @uptownstyleblog