I see it daily with newbies on Instagram: "like-for-like", "please follow me", "validate my existence, please". The fact that I see it daily also says something about me: Hi, my name is Mike, and I'm addicted to likes.
This is Your Brain on Drugs
I've tried them all: Flickr, Instagram, 500px, GuruShots, Viewbug, and to lesser extents, Facebook and Twitter. I don't use Viewbug or GuruShots anymore, but my behavior was worse when I did; constantly refreshing the page to see where my shots were ranking. Apart from the validation, it is actually fun to share your work on social media. Community engagement is a fantastic aspect that can be very beneficial, but I don't need to check my phone every ten minutes. So, why do I seem to desperately need validation from strangers? Opioids. Specifically, opioids in the brain, is the reason that I'm addicted to getting Likes.
The common misconception is that it's dopamine that gives us the warm and fuzzies, but according to researchers, while dopamine does play an important role in the reward system, it's opioids that give us the craving for more. And, all these social media companies invest millions in research and marketing to try to leverage your brain chemistry. They know that those few moments of slight euphoria keep us coming back.
For me, Facebook is the worst culprit. Almost constantly, there's a little red notification on my Facebook page. And, even if I've clicked "mark all as read", it will still appear, minutes later, for the same notification. I know it's the same notification but I still click it, like a good little drone. Call me a cynic, but it wouldn't surprise me if Facebook's algorithms do this on purpose. I have mentioned this to the Support Centre, but of course, I'm met with silence.
Be Mindful of Your Time
Ultimately, this quest for likes is a fool's errand. It truly is devoid of any substance and meaning. The amount of time you spend checking your phone, refreshing your phone, or fishing for likes with inane and/or generic comments, could be spent learning a new technique or looking for inspiration. Almost anything else is more productive and probably better for your overall mental state.
Instead of focusing on who likes what, try to better yourself by examining the work of people you admire. Pick out one small thing that you can improve on and focus on getting better at that. Slowly but surely, you will increase your skill-set. This is certainly more positive and rewarding and than trawling for extra Likes, but it's not easy. You can't just suddenly stop the relentless checking. At this stage, for me at least, it's a behavioral pattern, and any behavioral pattern is difficult to break.
What am I Going to do?
A simple method to avoid a lot of this would be to just turn off all my notifications. But, in saying that, as a professional photographer, I have to be on social media. I get work through Facebook and Instagram so I actually need to check them. But, really, do I need to check them so often? I don't think so. So, to help me figure this out I can ask myself one simple question every time I feel the urge to check: "Why?". I think that if I'm honest with myself, I'll end up with more time on my hands, and greater peace of mind.
Any of you guys getting the same urges? What do you do to combat them?