One of the mainstays of social media from its early beginnings – Friendster and Myspace through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – has been quantifiable figures by which the user can measure their “popularity.” These numbers – be they the number of friends, comments, or “likes” – are often the metric by which users determine their standing in their social sphere. The higher the friend count, the more “popular” the user – the more “popular” the user, the better their life must be.
Quantifiable friendship in and of itself is the wrong approach to social interaction and relationship building. If they’re lucky, a person gets a handful of really close friends on whom they can rely for anything. That “best friend” or “close friend” bond is a truly special one that is not to be taken lightly. There are people in my life who, if they were to call or text me as I was writing this, you’d better believe this sentence would go unfinished. I hope you have the same. Even if it’s one person, that bond is very meaningful. However, these generally aren’t the relationships cultivated on Facebook and the like. I even hesitate to call social networking connections “friendships” because in some cases it’s a person whom you rarely see or have never met in person. That’s not a friend, that’s a picture. That intangible social networking connection whereby one person accepts another’s request does not make for a meaningful or lasting relationship.
The credence placed upon the quantity of one’s social media friends can be quite damaging. In the introduction I briefly mentioned that comparing one’s own life to another’s has never been easier or more destructive than it has been with social media. The friendship count is no different. There are people for whom their number of friends directly translates to their own perceived social success. Such dangerous importance placed on an arbitrary number of internet acquaintances can only lead to delusion at the best and utter depression at worst. And it’s actually worse with comments and likes. Many seek validation through how many likes or comments a post of theirs received. Commonly it can be seen with someone posting a photo of themselves and judging their worth based on the amount of likes and comments. This is a dangerous game to play – when it goes well, the user gets an ego boost, when it doesn’t and the count is low, the ego sinks through the floor. It absolutely breaks my heart to think that somewhere, someone is anxiously counting their likes and comments for a selfie they just posted, only to be utterly let down by a lack of response. This kind of behavior can be absolutely devastating to one’s own self-worth. Counting likes could not be a worse way to evaluate one’s own worth; judging one’s own worth is a fruitless endeavor anyhow. This sort of behavior is even worse when it comes to young children who hang so much on their social media presence such that an underwhelming response for one of their photographs can lead them into depression or even suicide.
The concept of children on social media is gut-wrenching to me, and it’s one that we’ll cover in greater detail. The point is this: a quantifiable friendship number is a dangerous way to judge how you’re doing. I’ve mentioned that it leads to depression, which it does, but it can also have the opposite effect and induce megalomaniacal behavior causing the user to believe they’re better than others. I hope you can see the danger in all of this. We weren’t wired to look at life this way. Relationships aren’t a numbers game, and to believe so is utterly sociopathic. Quantifiable friendship is but one of the many troubling features that social media boasts – it’s changing our collective consciousness for the worse.