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Guest Post: LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF INSTAGRAM LIKES

The following is a guest post by Jonathan Tsuei

I like writing. I like it so much, I even obtained a degree towards it. A part of earning that degree involved workshops, where our writing was shared with our peers and we received feedback.

Here’s a confession: whenever it was my turn to step up to the plate, to step up to the line, to submit a story...I was almost always attempting to predict how my peers would respond. I wanted to present myself in a favorable way. To prove what I can do. To put my strengths on display and conceal every weakness.

But then: is that not what I’m doing here, with this blog post? (Already, I’m considering how some of you will respond, what sort of points and counter-points will be made.)

But then again: is that not what we all do here, in this lived life?

A significant part of my work and professional experiences involve children, the most recent of which were middle school children. 6th, 7th, 8th graders; eleven, twelve, thirteen year-olds. One day, a group of them were discussing the number of followers they had on Instagram. I remarked that I only had around one hundred and sixty.

“Really, Mr. Tsuei? You gotta have, like, at least three hundred!”

Pfft, nah, bro. I ain’t gonna just let any random person follow me.

Perhaps I can see the logic there, however. More followers means more “likes” for your posts.  Yet, what exactly do more likes mean?

I personally am also a user of Facebook (653 friends), Twitter (126 followers), and Tumblr (65 followers). At the time of writing this post, my blog had 22 views.

Thus, my net digital worth must be 206.8.

Yes, you’re correct: that’s just all the numbers averaged together.

Arbitrary? Indeed it is. But, at the end of the day, are not the number of likes we receive on our selfies also arbitrary? And of what import are selfies at any rate? Probably the same as having a high number of followers and friends on social media.

Which is nothing but pride, vanity, hubris, and arrogance.

I won’t sit here in front of my computer hurling fire and brimstone with words. Yet, perhaps I will at myself. Because this is where it all stems from: a puzzling inquiry into my own conceitedness.

So, why pride? Why the need to save face? Maybe, it’s the need for validation?

Here’s a brief shoutout to cnet.com: it’s my current go-to source of news, reviews, and tips for electronics. Yet, on almost every article or review for a smartphone, you can scroll down to the comments section and find the inevitable argumentative monologues that populate all websites.  But here, the soap box arguments are about World War OS.

“Samsung: the next DUMB thing.”

“iOS is SOOO boring!”

“Yeah, you’d pay whatever for anything with an apple for a logo!”

“You must have shares in Samsung. iPhones rule.”

My belief is that most people who post such things must be trolls who are taking advantage of the anonymity that the internet provides. At the very least, that’s my hope.

Yet, it’s apparently a real debate, with real discussions, and people really taking sides. iOS vs Android vs Windows vs Everything Else Out There. People are passionate about what they believe is superior. And, like all other competing consumer products, people will defend their chosen brand to whatever end. So, why is that?

I find myself scrolling through the comments of an iPhone review, searching for those people who are vocal advocates of the phone’s merits—despite its smaller screen, lack of customization, and fixture within the Apple ecosystem. I find myself actively seeking them out. Because I am an iPhone user. And I want validation.

Is that something many people, if not all, hope to find? Validation for our decisions and our actions. Rarely is there anyone to tell us, “That was a good decision, there! All that agonizing, internal debate sure turned out OK!”

When it happens, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, it sucks.

The convenient thing is: validation perfectly complements the desire to impress.

Because, who enjoys being the last picked for the team? To be the odd-one-out, the one not quite good enough, the one that’s merely an unnoticeable afterthought. Almost without realizing, I always want to put out the best version of myself—my best product. I always want to feel like I belong, like I’m wanted. Even when I know I more than belong, the need for reassurance is somehow always present.

And somehow, the need to impress becomes such a vital part of life. Is that not true for everyone else? And I essentially am truly asking, because I’m sure many people genuinely pay no heed to the thoughts of others (not in a bad way). But I’m equally as sure that there are many others who do take heed (probably in a bad way).

So. Validation and pride. Our own choices. Selfies.

In the end, is it about us or is it about others?

Or is it both?

Because inevitably, some people will care. Some people will not be impressed and they will pick us last for the team. (Are they themselves pridefully self-conscious?)

Perhaps this is one of those vicious cycles. But is there a way to spin it into something...better?

If there was anything I’d learned during my quest for my writing degree, it was this: any story, any poem I write does not need to be changed. Despite any criticism, I have no obligation to change any part of it. As long as I believe it’s what it should be, and can adequately explain why, any element can remain exactly as it is.

And that’s OK. Because, when all is said and done, some people will care, and some will not. I think I can live with that.