When one of my best friends, Arielle, moved to the suburbs with her husband, I figured I’d see her a lot less than when she lived down the street from me. I knew I’d see her even less frequently once she had given birth to her son.
Though far from being considered an over sharer, in the past six months Arielle has been posting on her Instagram page more regularly. For the most part, her profile is filled with pictures of her adorable baby.
Recently, as I was thumbing through my feed, it occurred to me that I had actively been double tapping on all of Arielle’s photos, regardless of the content.
This is unlike me.
For whatever reason, I am a selective double tapper. I have no idea why I tend to be so discerning because – when I think about it – it’s pretty silly to be stingy, seeing as I have literally unlimited hearts to give and nice comments to make.
What the hell am I doing online?
Disconcerted by the disparity in my own personal social media behavior, I decided to challenge myself to give the same blind social media love reserved for my friends and family to every single account that I follow for an entire week. Yes that includes my most recent ex-boyfriend, whom I haven’t been able to bring myself to unfollow for four years, despite the barrage of photos of his pregnant wife and new house. Yes, I was prepared to show him unconditional social love as well.
- I had to like everything, including sponsored ads.
- I could not unfollow anyone.
- I could not publicly say that I was doing this as an experiment.
- I had to post at least once a day.
How did it feel?
WEIRD! It felt very strange to like every single photo in my Instagram feed. After the first day I hoped it would get easier throughout the week, but it never really did.
We all follow different accounts for many reasons. My feed is a mixed bag of 379 close friends, family, co-workers, people I met once or twice, writers/Internet personalities I’ve never met but admire, celebrities, brands and, yes, even people who annoy or generally intrigue me. Hate-following – as embarrassing as it is to admit – is a real thing, and it has never been more apparent to me than after this experiment.
Liking sponsored posts felt a little silly, even though I was being served relevant ads like Airbnb (which I have used) and Adeline (which I saw in theaters). When it comes to brands or celebrities I actually follow, I realized that I rarely like their posts due to a “one in a million” attitude.
I genuinely love many of Lena Dunham’s photos, but never bother to double tap the photos of her chunky platform shoes or rescue dog Lamby because I figure what does it matter if she doesn’t see? Even typing that out sounds so stupid, right? If you follow someone, and their post brings you joy, wouldn’t it make sense to share the good vibes? My behavior begs the question, do we show admiration for other people’s posts for the same reason we post ourselves: validation?
Then there were accounts where I knew people would definitely see – the peripheral friends who lead lives that look nothing like my own. The day to day filled with money, marriage, and mommies. I follow them because it rubs me the wrong way in a sense I can’t really articulate, which is probably why I still follow – to figure it out.
But, of course – as is the basis of most negativity – it’s most likely a wee bit of jealousy. It’s difficult to engage with Instagram accounts that I only use as an anonymous portal into someone else’s life because it’s such a glaring mirror into my own dark corners.
But, even my truly genuine, positive side felt uncomfortable. That Internet writer, whom I very much admire, is a super user; I had to like all six of her photos in one day, typically in succession. Anne Donahue why did you have to go on a super cool trip to NY and document it all with many, many awesome posts?! Erin Mallory Long...why you gotta post all those cute selfies in cool graphic tees?
And I didn’t expect my past to come back in such a big way. One of my high school boyfriends, the one who dumped me for another girl but I still follow because that was a million years ago and he’s still a totally cool person? He posted a #tbt from prom 2003, which gave my 17-year-old self a pit in her stomach.
If she knew what Instagram was, she would not approve of acknowledging that photo. But, them’s the rules (I decided upon). Also, dare I say I felt a warm pang of nostalgia to see the early 00’s prom styles? Heart given.
What did I notice about my behavior?
Over the course of the week I noticed that I would wait and come back to engage with photos after other likes had accumulated on the post, because is anything scarier than being in the first 11 likes? Granted, I should have made it a rule that I like photos the instant I saw them. This was probably cheating a little, but I felt so weird for a week I let myself have it.
But possibly bending the rules (I made up) aside, I was most surprised at how truly vulnerable this exercise made me feel. I’m generally a very open person, but this made me feel downright exposed, in a completely unexpected way. Did people pay attention that I liked everything? Did they think it was weird? Did they think I was weird? Or, really, was I narcissistic to even have these thoughts?
I wonder if people even cared. Did that girl from my sorority notice that I had liked posts out of the blue? I’d like to say no, but I totally know when people like my posts. It makes me feel good to see familiar faces acknowledging and, yes I’ll say it, validating whatever observation or life decision I made. Why would it be any different for anyone else?
I didn’t know it was possible to feel so self-conscious from behind a screen!
What did I learn?
The whole experience was positive overall. I felt myself actually become more generous, patient, and thoughtful about the content I was consuming. If I had to publicly show my support for a photo, I was going to take the time to look at it. Sure I had to like a couple bad tattoos and blurry photos but, in opening myself up, I realized how many more posts I genuinely enjoyed that I might not have noticed before.
When it comes to brands and celebrities, I’m going to be more active in liking posts, because one in a million is still someone.
And, if you can believe it, my ex-boyfriend didn’t post during the whole week. I had a strange sense of relief but also disappointment because this whole process taught me to be less of a dick on social media, and I wanted to prove that I could like my ex-boyfriend’s photos and mean it.
The experiment has encouraged me to be more conscious about the way I engage with others on social media in general. I’m finding myself liking and favoriting more on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr in a completely sincere way.
I had never thought to stop and question what sort of citizen of the Internet I had become. I didn’t like what I saw but, just like you can do offline, it’s possible to change your behavior to be a more considerate member of World Wide Web.
So with this in mind, I realized why I had liked all of Arielle’s posts. It’s because I don’t see her nearly as much as I’d like anymore. Every time I tap the heart, I’m telling Arielle that I see her; I acknowledge her; I miss my friend.
Yes, a little red heart can say that much. Unconditional love translates into social media behavior, interestingly enough. It doesn’t replace face-to-face time, but those hearts certainly help fill the holes in between.