A recent conversation with my husband over dinner sparked a debate and subsequent analysis into social media and its role in turning us into attention whores. It started by him showing me a photo of someone we both follow on Instagram (but mind you, have never had a conversation with in over 10 years) who continually posts photos of herself encouraging us to support her “brand.” It made me think. What’s with this recent emergence of early thirty something females whose feeds are heavily peppered with professional photos of them frolicking in random forests, straddling the crashing waves under the sunset with a seductive pout behind some artistic light? Or even of metrosexual males who highlight every angle of their crossfitted biceps and gleaned washboard abs? How many times has that image been filtered to capture the “reality” of that person’s not so mundane life? What’s with the incessant obsession of brand influencers and blog promoters showcasing their artistic portfolio multiple times a day? A genuine interest in photography? Perhaps. A crying plea for attention? Much more likely.

If that sounds harsh, think of it this way: what would a few months, even a few weeks without the “like” functionality do to you? Would it encourage you to post less since you aren’t getting the instant validation of your photo or comment? Probably. And no judgment- it’s now become human nature to crave validation for something as simple as our thoughts or a ten x filtered picture of our baby. If we posted something, checked back within half an hour, and there were 4 likes, we’d deflate. “Was that a bad pic? Is this not heavy traffic time? Have I posted too much within the last week that’s causing uninterest?” Our minds are quick to analyze all possible permutations of like worthiness to come to a some kind of explanation of why our post didn’t receive the attention we have come to expect. And therein lies the problem. Social media sites have tapped into our subconscious insecurities that have volcanoed us back into the throes of a middle school popularity contest. Why do we need those likes to confirm that what we’re posting requires external approval? And when I say “we” I’m including myself, as this is an introspective reflection on why there’s truth to these social media sites being a pantry of addiction. When we take a picture of something that we know is going to appear on our feed, how curated is it? How many filters did it go through? How is it framed? How does it ooze perfection? Here’s another question- how will it impact my brand perception? Does the desolate beach backdrop cue I’m an exotic traveler? Does the smiley family picture indicate that #lifegoals are in check? Are we posting these pictures more for others than we are to simply share a personal experience?

If so, then why are we doing it? My theory is that it’s because we want what everyone wants: acceptance. Despite the family and friends in our life who congratulate us for our personal milestones and support us through life’s obstacles, it’s in our culture to want more. We want the popular girl from high school (no matter our current interaction/friendship/lack of communication) to like our photo. We want that acquaintance from Kleiner Perkins to comment on our post for profesional validation. We want that acceptance to extend past the people we know and into our network of the friends of friends. The line between that acceptance and a narcisstic demand for attention, however, has become blurred and social media fulfills both those needs.

The terrifying aspect in all of this is how it affects our children in their formative years. Kids young enough to be denied lotto tickets are engaging in dangerous stunts or consuming Tide pods for YouTube followers. Is this what will artificially serve as the building blocks of their self-confidence? Is it what will ultimately erode their self-confidence? And as adults, by being too engaged in social media, are we indirectly supporting a culture so focused on digital substantiation that we’re sending the wrong message to our kids? I think so.

So, what’s the solution? Is there a solution? Perhaps. Here’s a start- Try limiting your interaction with social media sites so that it doesn’t consume your life and become an addictive habit. Next, when you post, reflect internally as to why you’re posting. Is it to truly share an update with friends and family afar or is it to validate your own self worth? Lastly, remember that there was a time when social media did not exist and vanity did not define our character. The people who believe in us or contribute to our psychological wellness should be the people we actually respect and interact with. Stop living for the superficiality and start living for the substance.