Instagram announced the other day that it has been experimenting worldwide with removing visible like counts from users’ feeds and that the testing has now moved to North America. And while angsty teens and influencers with thousands of followers may not be pleased, the rest of the sane world is rejoicing.
“Receiving support through ‘likes’ is not a sustainable source of stability, safety, or happiness,” says Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Tracy Asamoah, M.D.
Seems like a duh, but when our children seem to hang on every little “like” notification, we need to explore that idea a little further.
We have to ask: what do we actually need to sustain ourselves? Well, the basics of physical survival aside, we have some fundamental psychological necessities as well, which include the need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. And those things can only be fulfilled by intrinsically motivated behaviors. (Meaning, things we do because we find them INTERNALLY rewarding. They’re fun, enjoyable, satisfying, or challenging, but we receive no kind of payment from anyone or anything else for doing them.)
And do you know what CANNOT satisfy those psychological needs, or make us a mentally or emotionally stable, safe, or happy people? Extrinsically motivated behaviors or rewards…such as getting “paid” with Instagram likes.
The number of likes we see on ours or others’ Insta posts serves to falsify our senses of connection, support, relatability, and even worth. Which means it’s no wonder that teens who obsessively check like counts and post solely for the purpose of proving popularity (to whom, exactly?) also report higher levels of anxiety and depression.
“Removing ‘Likes’ from the Instagram social media platform has the potential to benefit the mental health of its most vulnerable users,” explained Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Paul Weigle, M.D. “Studies indicate that adolescents who engage in social comparison on social media often develop depression, which is currently an epidemic in adolescents. A proportion of these teens check their Instagram posts obsessively for validation, up to hundreds of times per day, which can become an unhealthy habit when it displaces healthier activities such as socializing in person, getting adequate sleep, doing homework, and getting exercise.”
Now, this isn’t to say that I think Instagram is a terrible thing. When used the right way.
But what way is that?
Well, when Kevin Systrom, creator of Instagram, was asked why the app was so successful in its infancy, he responded with this:
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“The app [gives] users a way to turn ordinary, everyday scenes into magical moments. And then share them instantly.”
No disrespect to Mr. Systrom, but I’m going to go ahead and say it: this is the wrong way to use Instagram.
And here we go again with WHY?
Because did you know that taking a photo with the intention of sharing it immediately decreases your level of satisfaction (as well as the levels of the people surrounding) and enjoyment in the actual moment you’re attempting to capture? That sucks, but it makes perfect sense. We end up being so preoccupied with the “magical” and “instant” shareability, that our IRL experiences automatically lose a significant degree of their inherent magic—instead getting filtered and captioned to perfection in the eyes of all those users waiting in the wings to double-tap.
And don’t get me wrong—sharing is great. It’s yet another natural instinct we shouldn’t ignore, as sharing an experience with others can dramatically enhance it. However, that natural instinct can easily lead us astray in this technology-laden world.
Because instead of choosing to share the irreplaceable sites, smells, sounds, tastes, and conversations with those immediately surrounding us, we choose to share a little square experience-impersonator with an intangible audience across the globe, meticulously managing impressions and curating identities, to the immediate and lasting detriment of those basic psychological needs we talked about earlier.
So that gets us back to the right way to use the app. What does sharing in a healthy way look like?
It undoubtedly starts a photo that wasn’t taken with the intent to share (meaning it may not be perfectly centered, or have just the right lighting, or HEAVEN FORBID it may even reveal a double chin or two). It probably fewer filters. It may even include a simple—and authentic—explanation of why the picture is special to you instead of that dreamy quote you’ve been hanging on to for just this moment.
And it definitely doesn’t come with a like count underneath it.
Let’s just hope Instagram can see it the same way, permanently. Because I’d double-tap for that.