Texto de Alice Rodrigues da Silva. Revisão de João N.S. Almeida. Imagem: ícone do MSN Messenger, 2009-2014.
It is a known fact that social media has been growing a lot over the past years: it first started as a place where we could connect with our long-lost friends and share pictures of our common daily lives, including our pets and meals, but now there seems to have been a change in what the purpose of owning an account really is. Businesses that bring international giveaways in a way of getting more followers and recognition, the now called “influencers” who become partners with brands that they had never heard of, the pressure of having to post a flawless picture at a certain time and hoping for a ridiculous amount of “likes” because that way your platform will grow. But the question is: at what point did we start to take social media as something that was made to shape our lives? At what point did someone stop posting pictures of their meal and instead started to post about their business and even created an Instagram account for it? How did social media start as something so minimalistic, and then blew out of proportion in such a way that most people have to be constantly checking it?
As said previously, social media was minimalistic at first. First came instant messaging platforms, such as Windows Messenger, which were a very nice upgrade from the previous way of electronically addressing someone using text: by plain SMS – or instead, using old-fashioned e-mail. With these platforms, people were allowed to text, send animated messages, see when their friends were either online or offline (which came in hand because instead of spending hours by the phone waiting for a text back, they could simply just text them once they logged in), define status and profile pictures, among others. I believe that that was the point where people started to pay more attention to the actual potential of social media. At first, this was seen as a new trend which, much like others, could vanish as the years flew by. However, people from all over the world started asking for more. Being able to upload a profile picture was very nice, but what about being able to post other pictures that we could share with our friends and stay in our virtual “walls” for years? What about being able to follow pages and music artists, or maybe even creating one just to share jokes outside our personal profiles? That was when the offer started to rise as well. That was when the platforms that we still use to this day, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, among others, started to appear and to bring different stuff to the table. With Facebook, people had a new platform that gave them the chance of connecting with those they had not seen in years, create groups, create and follow pages of one’s interests, post the amount of pictures that they would like, comment on their friends’ pictures, among other new possibilities that they wanted so deeply. Then Twitter was developed, a new social media where people could post their daily thoughts in an abbreviated fashion, their opinions, their pictures, everything they could do with Facebook, but introducing something called the hashtag. Since it was something new, everyone was using it. The hashtags did not have rules: they could be either long or short, in all caps, they could express a feeling, a thought, or simply be a #No. But people were still not happy, the demand was increasing, and the offer remained. And then came Instagram, a platform that introduced filters and photo editing to the common person. We are now talking about a platform that focused mainly on sharing pictures, which means that it was also developed taking into consideration the phones that were being used at the time and their features, such as their cameras. This way, Instagram was continuously updated trying to match the newest phone camera versions, trying to give us the same quality content that we would get if we were experiencing certain moments with our own eyes through pictures. People started to play around with the filters that this platform provided for free and just posting everything they would do daily: a picture of their dog eating something, a picture of their coffee, a picture of the sunset, everything. Instagram also allowed the usage of hashtags, creating a new environment for those who were tired of the previous “social media trends”; These platforms are still used quite often these days, and currently Instagram is the one that stands out more and is used by most people, targeting every age group – even though the most popular age group for most social platforms is between 18-30, Instagram does target everyone, as we can see through this recent study.
Social media, in general, really improved in a way that it is constantly looking to update its services in order to provide their users with everything they need, which means that it is constantly trying to gather more people and “forcing” them to stay in one platform. Not that the creators and developers of each social media company do not benefit from someone using multiple platforms, they do: they just want people to spend as much time as possible in one platform, and subsequently making them tired of that one and logging out and then changing to another one, and the cycle goes on. This means that we are so trapped in this online world that instead of staying in one social media platform, we get tired of what it has to offer, and our solution is to change into another one. What we are looking at here is something that used to be so simple as posting one picture and logging out, and now we are almost “forced” to check our social media every other minute because we are constantly looking for social contacts updates, advertisements, discounts, news, job opportunities, among others. I advise you to check out this amazing documentary on Netflix, “The Social Dilemma.” If you have not seen it yet, maybe this will help you understand better where I am coming from with this paragraph. Social media has created the need to be used constantly and not as a hobby. And that was when companies and businesses started to seriously profit and take advantage of this constructed need.
Earlier I mentioned influencers. For those who are not familiar with the term, an influencer is someone who uses their platform in a way of trying to influence people: this may be into buying something, into creating a healthier lifestyle, into travelling somewhere, the list goes on. With this constant need of following more pages that represent our interests, some people started to invest in their own platform and sharing their own interests with their followers, making their platform grow due to the fact that more people would identify themselves with their content. At this point, small businesses would start offering these influencers discounts or samples of their products in return of an advertisement. For example, instead of posting a picture of their morning coffee, the influencer would have to post a picture of them holding a coffee mug and saying that their followers could get a discount by using their promotional code. This made the whole concept of minimalism disappear in social media. Many people started to post their pictures not as a way of simply sharing what they were doing at that moment, but as a way of trying to make profit or get more recognition. The idea of “less is more” started to vanish, giving room to the idea of “the more you show, the more you get.” But this did not only happen with the influencers: it targeted everyone. Instead of being about spending your free time scrolling down your friends’ pictures, it started to be a competition between who had the most followers, the most likes, the most partnerships. A competition between who had the biggest amount of possessions, being these either bought or sent from companies as a thank you gift for gathering 1000 followers for them over the previous days.
In conclusion, I believe that social media started as being so simple that their users quickly demanded more. This led to an increasing demand that a few years later still remains: we are not satisfied with how little we get from social media, and we are constantly online trying to get more and more from it. We believe that we are independent users and that once we log out of social media, we are free to go on a walk, ride a bike, go to a museum, do what makes us feel good. However, when we are doing so, how many times do we not reach out for our phones and snap a picture of what is happening? But it cannot be any picture: it has to be taken from a certain angle, we have to do a certain pose, we have to choose the filter wisely or else it would not do the picture justice. Social media has lost its simplicity, but we are those to blame. We, the users, are the ones who started to raise the bar and wanted to show off our “perfect lives”, trying to distance ourselves from normality. And we were actually far from something: the concept of perfection that we created due to social media. Its creators and developers are the ones who were smart to profit over our thirst to be the best, the richest, the ones who people see on the street and want to take a picture with. It is a losing game, but we always need some consequences or else we will not learn and will continue to be slaves of the innovations and technologies that we stumble upon. We need to learn what the best for ourselves is instead of putting others and their thoughts first.