It is hard to exaggerate how much the ‘Like’ button changed the psychology of Facebook use. What had begun as a passive way to track your friends’ lives has become now deeply interactive. Users are gambling every time they share a photo, web link, or status update.
You might dismiss it as a guilty pleasure that we all indulge in, but the ‘Like’ button on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram has hijacked your brain. Your constant quest for validation has taken a sinister turn. You are desperate for ‘Likes’, for a measure of how important your thoughts and opinions are to others.
Instead of wondering what other people think of your photos and status updates, you get real-time feedback as they click (or do not click) a little blue-and-white thumbs-up button beneath whatever you post.
When you need validation – you go to check your Facebook. When you are feeling lonely – you go and check your smart phone. When you are feeling insecure – you go and check your smart phone. You post something on you smart phone and instantly – you go and check your smart phone and check the ‘Like’ count.
183 . . . 154 . . . 71! Your latest picture post got just 71 ‘Likes’ from your 1,233 followers. What was wrong with it? Did these people, most of whom you have not spoken to for years, not like your outfit? Did they not realise you had agonised very long and very hard before choosing this picture for public approval?
A post with zero ‘Likes’ is not just privately painful, but also a kind of public condemnation: either you did not have enough online friends, or, worse still, your online friends were not impressed. Like pigeons, you are more driven to seek feedback when it is not guaranteed.
Social confirmation is a marker that you belong to a group of like-minded people. In evolutionary terms, group members tended to survive while loners were picked off, one by one. So discovering that you are a like other people is deeply reassuring. When people are deprived of these bonds, they experience a pain so severe that it is called ‘The social death penalty’.
There are links between overusing social media and depression, loneliness and a host of other mental problems. The evidence is stark and plenty. You are too far gone, hopelessly addicted, and it is driving you to depression.
If Human relationships suffer in the face of smartphones and tablets, how are they going to withstand the tide of future immersive virtual reality experiences. Facebook is barely a decade old, and Instagram is half that; in ten years, a host of new platforms will make Facebook and Instagram seem like ancient curiosities.