The Quest for Likes Will Destroy Your Creativity

The Quest for Likes Will Destroy Your Creativity

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?  

Mike O'Leary's picture

Mike is a landscape and commercial photographer from, Co. Kerry, Ireland. In his photographic work, Mike tries to avoid conveying his sense of existential dread, while at the same time writing about his sense of existential dread. The last time he was in New York he was mugged, and he insists on telling that to every person he meets.

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Welcome to the club....This video can help a let a bit ....

I think understanding what makes us addicted can help to be more careful when we reach for the phone ... I also make a own list of what I can do to avoid this... Time with Friend and family Phone is off.... Eating meals Phone is off... Driving Phone is away so I can't even reach it.... Seems like its battle with our brain...

Interesting video but I have to say, I can't stand it when the word "addicting" is used in place of "addictive". I actually had to stop the video for a while. It sounds completely out of place when the narrator of the video uses it. I know that it's not technically incorrect, but it just sounds so dumb.

Sorry for the rant. I feel better now. Thanks for the comment, Rafal! :)

My phone is now going greyscale.

No worries ... I totally agree with you... and by the way great article you really nailed it... I think this issue should be discussed way more than actually is... I noticed that where ever I go and see people literally everyone is glued to their phones... I think this become epidemic on massive scale... just yesterday I was with my kid at the playground and like 90% parents didn't even look at their kids everyone was looking at their phones... we becoming completely disconnected with THANK YOU for speaking out... !!!

Cheers, man!

These images from photographer and artist Antoine Geiger have bee floating around for a while:

Thought provoking and funny.

So true. Thanks for the link. Thought provoking

Oh, and your headshots are incredible. Looks like someone got his money's worth from Dylan Patrick's The Cinematic Headshot..... :) Have I guessed right?

You are absolutely right. :) and Your Shots are amazing too.

Interesting video. It's content, and that of this FStoppers post for that matter, is not something I've given much thought about.

Even so, a little while ago I was feeling overwhelmed with not just my phone and notifications, but a lot of things in my life. I have a large workload, a wife, a family and other interests of my own. And without really thinking about why or how, I suddenly decided that notifications on my phone were distracting me from work and in general taking up too much of my time and/or at inconvenient times. So I turned off all notifications for all social networking apps on my phone. It's been a huge relief!

One of the most liberating things I did was delete my personal FB account. I still have one for my blog and photography stuff but that's it. Removal of all things FB off my phone was the 2nd step for the exception of Instagram that gets used once in a while.
After a year of this I found my social circles contracted, my stress went way down and my life is fuller without the need of false community and my phone. My phone has no returned to a useful tool in my life rather than something I need.

Hey, Aaron. I still have my personal account, but I very rarely use it. At this stage, though, I think FB is past it. The interface is kinda crappy and the interactions are fleeting. I'll happily get them some money to promote my business, as long as I get a decent ROI; after that, I couldn't give a monkey's a**.

I've deactivated my account multiple times these past few days. Unfortunately it keeps getting re-activated by Spotify. I have to get in touch with Spotify so that all my playlists can be transferred to a new account. Apparently it's not possible to unbind the account from Facebook.

The Facebook Single Sign On although convenient is another feature that binds you to the system. Not to mention all the data mining going behind the scenes :( We're living inside the Matrix, only we're being used to generate ad revenue. I'd much rather pay to be able to use the service rather then give up my privacy rights.

An honest post. Thank you Fstoppers and the writer. I know I got it “bad” the like me thing.....” I look for the courage to delete my FB account or downsize “so called friends” and use a tool observe photographers work. A real conundrum for me.

"The Quest for Likes Will Destroy Your Creativity"

Yeah, but you won't have any friends then...

I took the 20 hours a week I put into social media and started pounding the pavement and implementing better networking techniques instead, and got waaaay more business than chasing Likes. I don't want Likes, I want Gigs.

Much better strategy to have, in my opinion. I think some people start off expecting to grow a good Instagram following and watch the offers come in (me included, to a certain extent). You're far better off getting to know the businesses in your local area. By all means post to social media, by don't let it be the be-all and end-all.

I've come upon a site called Alignable. I've set up my profile and have started to network with local businesses... but not full-bore yet. I intend to, as it seems like a great opportunity to rub elbows, gain some traction and get quality recommendations. Most likely, better time spent than Facebook. FB is an absolute time suck and kills brain cells.

Hi, I'm Vince... and I'm a FB addict.

The first thing I do every time I install a new app is disable all notifications, I prefer to decide when to check, and not to be checked.

Yes Mike, totally agree with you 100%. I read something that made me smile last week, it was: "Imagine if all social media shut down tomorrow and you were no longer a photographer."

I have been debating on shutting down my personal Facebook page and keeping my photography one for photo and blog posts. The issue is that I only have around 200 that follow my photography one and almost 1000 on my personal one. My thinking is that I would get more sales through my personal one so I leave it up and post more photos to it. Just not sure what to do so I leave them both.

Chasing praise on social media reminds me of the English master I had at college - he asked us one day whether we wanted to study Shakespeare during that particular lesson, or Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped". Practically everyone in the class said "Kidnapped" - one lone voice (from a guy with a very dry sense of humour) said Shakespeare. The English master then said "well, we'll do what the minority want, because the majority of men are fools!" There was more to that than satire - and I've remembered it all my life.

A true artist doesn't care what other people think. The moment you do that, you lose something.

Modesty prohibits me from adding that all my life I've done exactly as I please, and never given a damn about other people's opinions. :) I do, however, have the satisfaction of knowing that whenever I take photos for someone else, they are thrilled to bits - of course they should never tell me that - I'm a Leo, and it's bad for my ego. :)

Facebook should probably be avoided for a lot more reasons beyond those of this article. Just the other day, I realized I hadn't even looked at FB. Why? I spent almost theday doing some post-production and watching old movies. LOL, then again, all that post work was for getting images ready for, you guessed it, FB and Instagram. #intervention

The first step is admitting that you have a problem. Well done, Robert.

Wait...wasn't there like 10 articles on this site extolling the virtue of building likes on social media??!!

Have we turned around now?

If you look through the site you will find plenty of articles on the dark side of social media.

Thankfully, we are a diverse bunch of folks. There is no special narrative on Fstoppers. This is an opinion piece based on my opinion, and I'm very grateful for having the opportunity to voice my views on this subject.

We are all extremely passionate about what we do here; and our editors, including Lee and Patrick, encourage us to write about what makes us passionate, whether or not they agree with it. In my humble opinion, I think this is what sets Fstoppers apart from all the rest.

Not sure what your point is, but....thanks?

Social media rots one's brain

Up vote my comment, now!

If you hadn't have added that second part I probably would have given you an up vote. :)

Many photographers use social media to get clients. I do as well media is a double edged sword. One thing I do is dedicate a set time to respond to comments or messages (much like you would do in an office environment) so I am not on the phone all day. You can schedule it into your calendar ...say 30 minutes twice a day. I do this when I teach in the classroom too. University students are always on their phone or tablet I schedule a 5 minute break in class so they can check their phones. And like you, I turn off notifications so I don't get distracted all day. :-)

Yes! I've also started allocating a certain amount of time a day to responding to comments and likes. I still find myself going into the app, without thinking, and before I know it, I've spent 10 minutes scrolling. Gah! It's like a muscle, I suppose, I just need to exercise it more.

Just curious, does anyone else sense the implied irony that some of the same folks likely reading this article may also be submitting photos to be part of the Featured Photos section just below the comments? :)

The desire for validation is part of human nature. But I've now met more than a handful of photographers who's stated goal was to make it big on Instagram, or be in the top set of Explore or 500px Popular, and they simply have to chase the same 'Epic' scenes that score all the likes, so yes, personal creativity and expression are reduced to technical mastery and mimicry.

As I told a class I was teaching this weekend, I always personally value that one shot that is 'my' vision, even if it's not an Epic Like-Getter, rather than having dozens of a cookie-cutter #MeToo shots. But even so, one can't dismiss the effect of those cookie-cutter #MeToo likes -- they do feel nice -- but when you're chasing that fix, and modifying your behavior to do it, and to get more and more of it, well, that's the definition of an addiction.

Sadly I agree.
Re Guru: I wondered why some pretty ordinary photographs were in the top 10 and even winning competitions so I started 'gaming' instead of acting as if this was a genuine competition.
The more people you vote for ina category you've entered; the more votes you get. However, you also get more votes WHILE you're voting and, as soon as you stop, regardless of how many bonus position points you have; the votes for your shots falls off.
That benefits groups in 'good time zones' like Africa/Europe and Nth/Sth America but severely cramps people outside of popular time zones such as Pacific Islands etc.
I think a lot of people 'game' the system; voting for poor images in a category they have entered into in order to avoid voting for images that might be better than their own, that would explain why so many relatively ordinary shots appear at the top.
I've also played a bit with WHEN I boost an image and again, that seems to benefit those who are in popular time zones.
In the end, you come to realize that this is a game, not a contest and you either play it as a game or lose interest. I'd suggest a few chages but I doubt they'll happen:
1. You cannot vote in a category you've entered
2. You must vote for at least 50 shots a day
3. Images in the feed would need to be truly randomized and not promoted based on votes, time zone preferences etc

I'll keep playing only because I see a lot of good images and can follow photographers work I admire (regardless of their supposed fame), but I don't care much about rank now.