War for the Planet of LIKES (starring billions)

Remember when we kicked off 2019 and greeted with the news of the cosmetic tycoon Kylie Jenner’s baby announcement. The netizens broke into an absolute frenzy gushing over an Instagram post of her baby girl’s itsy-bitsy fingers wrapped around Jenner’s finger amassing over 18 million likes and being crowned as the most liked picture on Instagram. However, the Instagram royalty was poached by a picture of an egg that set out to dethrone her post and garnered over 24.5 million likes and counting. Well it definitely managed to create a lot of hubbub but also proving the clout of Instagram likes once again.

When Instagram was launched in October 2010, it started out as a mainstream and lucid social-media platform that allowed its users to share their pictures and videos. But then as its user demography kept surging, so did the insatiable hunger for likes among Instagrammers. ‘Man is a social creature and is preceded by the society,’ even the girl who constantly posts about how ‘Quarantine is basically her daily lifestyle.’ As humans we always have this certain need for social validation and approval from others like some tribal ritual of passage; be it in reality or social media.

Now this virtual validation can seem all roseate and promising, fractionally. The Instagram likes you get, even those 11 likes on your buck-toothed school picture  or that exotic beach picture of you in a dainty sarong gives you a morale boost; an assurance that people out there see you as a fashion icon, beauty guru, tech savant or a motorhead and support your passion, hobbies and interests. And as you nestle into this soft cloud of validation it becomes your driving force to broadcast yourself, as you are despite your struggles, credentials, race, complexion, gender. It helps people break free of their inhibitions and openly discuss about ‘body positivity’ ‘sexual harassment’ ‘mental health’ ‘climate change’ ‘world peace’, ‘empowerment’.

This monopoly of likes ended up paving the way for an elite clique of social media influencers. These users start out as any mundane instagrammers, but as their content and post gain attention and likes, their account grows. The encouragement motivates to post fresh and unconventional material. Then to gain the upper hand there’s shrewd use of popular hashtags. Their posts can be accessed by many people with similar interests. In succession, these influencers start rolling the ball in popular culture on different turfs, posting health and fitness regimes, composing music, food that tingles your palate, setting fashion trends etc. As much as this posse has helped in various social and humanitarian propaganda, they eventually usher in several sponsors and investors for marketing and promotional purposes. With brochures and pamphlets becoming outdated, businesses have adopted ‘digital marketing’. As popular businesses and raw start-ups have ventured into these uncharted tides, it has built up their marketing, brand promotion and networking forums. 

From getting your dream freelancing opportunity to a site retailing a popular celebrity’s wedding attire you were doting on, these companies build up their online businesses through posters and ads having a good, dexterous hook and manipulate the users, increasing web traffic on their site. Further more the websites that you browse track your events, searches and interaction as cookies, out of which brands gain mileage and hence curating those Instagram ads. Lately, humble entrepreneurs hailing from modest backgrounds being a whiz in their craft but lacking resources for trade and marketing have found solace in Instagram. As they solicit likes for the samples of their work and thus, it becomes a popular profile. 

Albeit the scale seems to be tipping to the positive side, one couldn’t agree more when it comes to the growing inferiority complex and the hunger for likes gnawing upon users especially teenagers. A cloud of insecurity and unhealthy competition looms over one when another individual gets more likes or has a better lifestyle, clothes or a house. It pushes society towards the brink of materialism and shallowness, followed by snide comments and slamming on social media. This insanity often drives people to depression, existentialism and in worst cases even suicidal. People often lose their individuality, putting on a facade which could make the most desirable. 

In retrospect, with an ongoing pandemic, people are frantically preaching our race joining the Dinosaurs, Dodos and the Rhinos too. As much it’s inevitable, let’s tone down the melodrama and take a leap of faith. Reach out to people positively on social media, if you scroll past a random post aimlessly, probably double tap. And next time you’re out for brunch with your friends, stop taking 50 snaps of your croissant and espresso for the aesthetics; it’s time to gain a few likes and comments in reality, because it’s not always ‘#All for the gram’.