I’m a simple woman with simple tastes. If an aesthetically pleasing picture, meme or tik tok crosses my Instagram feed, then I will grant it a like. I hit the heart not out of any strong sense of pleasure from the image, but rather in honor of the temporary amusement which has faded almost instantly from my mind, much like my memory of the picture. Instagram serves as our vehicle for discovering the relationship status of the cute person you see in your residence hall’s lounge sometimes, but mainly Instagram is where we turn to numb our minds. The Instagram feed is the brain’s off switch, like a quick hibernation. We can scroll without commitment as we wait for class to start.
So knowing the approach most people bring to the platform, why do we still stress over like counts? A photo’s “success” or “failure” has no bearing on the actual content of the photo itself. If a picture was important enough for someone to post to their relatively permanent record of Instagram, no one else’s opinion can change that it matters.
Social media has become a catalyst for the human needs of acceptance and validation. And before you “OK Boomer” me, remember the origin of these needs began roughly with the dawn of humanity, but social media has put them on steroids. Pre-Instagram, our search for validation was limited, but still very much a part of our daily lives. Validation could only come from those we had access to, and our lack of widespread global communication limited the field to our neighbors, schoolmates and local areas. Social media changed the method in how we find that acceptance. It is now entirely possible to have friends all over the world; some of whom we’ve never met. The human need for consistent validation will not thrive in these circumstances.
Instagram’s removal of likes treats the symptom of this problem. After all, we cannot theoretically compare ourselves to unknown quantities. But humans will always compare ourselves to what we see and know. Hiding the likes will not remove the fear that we are somehow inferior to a more popular post. The only solution for this problem is to disassociate from the concept of likes. If a photo brings you enough joy that you are willing to post it to the immortal internet, then that needs to be enough validation. I’m not going to pretend that this is a perfect or simple solution. Humans have been searching for acceptance for more than 2,000 years. We’re not going to stop just because of Instagram taking away likes.