To further create a “less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves”
In 2015, Australian influencer Essena O' Neill quit Instagram. The then 18-year-old model was sick of it, even after amassing 600,000+ followers and being paid $2,000 per sponsored content. She declared that “Instagram is not real life” and “It's contrived perfection made to get attention.” She was one of the very first who shared this sentiment publicly. In 2018, YouTube sensation Elle Mills addressed chronic fatigue and depression in a video entitled “Burnt Out at 19.” She shares, “It’s not what I expected. I’m always stressed. My anxiety and depression keep getting worse. I’m waiting to hit my breaking point.” With thousands of people giving you uncensored feedback on your work, it gets exasperating—to say the least.
Being put in the spotlight at such a young age while striving for the (digital) dream comes at the expense of one's mental health. At this point, traditional barriers between one's personal and work life cease to exist. This heavily contributes to the “mental health crisis” content creators and ordinary individuals, such as myself, experience on a day-to-day basis. Fast forward to 2019, Instagram Stories and IGTV are features, which effortlessly entice a new generation of users to double-tap to their heart's content. My point being: Instagram has control over our lives—whether we like it or not.
The unhealthy obsession with needing to stay relevant—especially when your livelihood relies on it in a sea of competitors—is detrimental to one's overall well-being. In an old blog post of mine from 2016 entitled “The Need to Stay Relevant Exhausts Me,” I wrote:
“There is a persistent, nagging thought in my head that refuses to be ignored. It asks: Have I used my voice—let me be bold—and my influence to its extent? Did my social media presence affect another? Did I gain enough attention from my perfectly curated Instagram feed, which champions an active lifestyle and shuns rest? My thoughts refuse to be content with being put aside in a corner and being silenced. I love gathering and distributing inspiration but most days, it becomes a plight I am too exhausted to carry and live out. That seemingly selfless idea is, at its very core, entirely selfish. My humanity thrives on being and staying relevant.”
With the recent changes on the platform, will things get better? Instagram announced efforts to create a “less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves” by completely eliminating likes. This is a result of the scrutiny it has received, over the years, making it the platform that has the most negative effect on young people's mental health and well-being.
Likes as social currency—a term coined by Vivaldi founder and branding expert Erich Joachimsthaler in 2009—heavily cultivate one's social media presence and/or following. Instagram's new update comes with an explanation: “We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only you will be able to see the total number of likes on your posts.”
What then is the new currency? Kevan Lee of Buffer argues that attention is the new like. Changes in the algorithm started favoring frequency and engagement at the beginning of the year, and it continues to evolve. What we're now measuring is genuine interest and appeal to “consumers” because, at this point in time, we're all just exceedingly tired of social media telling us how valuable we are.
I've stopped paying attention to likes because it's such a futile measurement of the quality of my content—well, that's what I'd like to believe. Creating becomes a duty to fulfill instead of an overflow of our individual passions. Reader, create at your own pace (unless you have a deadline.) Acknowledge and address the burnout. Be verily aware of what you let in your system. If you have to mute and unfollow, have at it. We already know this but here we are.
Art Alexandra Lara