GUEST OPINION: Death by 10,000 likes

By on November 3, 2015

How social media skews our perception of danger.

How far will some people go to amass more likes? (Photo: Freepik)

How far will some people go to amass more likes? (Photo: Freepik)

Jackson, WY – Facebook will never be charged with murder. Instagram can’t take the blame for a traumatic brain injury. It’s not YouTube’s fault that you decided to ski off that cliff. However, social media most likely plays a contributing role to accidents in the mountains. Kodak courage for the photographers flash is nothing new, most likely a “watch this” mentality has been around since the first cavemen showed off his talents by taking on a saber-toothed tiger. What has changed, however, is the speed at which people can share their adventures, the volume of images that normalize extreme sports and the increased access to see what everybody else is doing in the mountains. The trifecta of speed, volume, and access to social media has hijacked our innate desire to be recognized and taken it to a dangerous level. After all, it’s hard enough to make decisions in the mountains without pondering how many likes will result from the perfect summit selfie. This digital popularity contest can cloud our judgment in the mountains and the pressure to fit in can be felt with every click of the button.

The quick dopamine surge we get from public acknowledgement of our accomplishments is undeniable, and Facebook means instant access to positive feedback. I am as guilty as the next person in this lusting for approval. Just last week, I found myself wondering if I should attempt a precarious move on a climb to get a “Facebook-worthy” photo. I then threw up in my mouth from my own self-centeredness. The “notice me” culture of the United States has been around for decades, but only since the advent of social media has it consumed so much of our attention. One look around the dinner table will show all Smartphones within arms reach and, like junkies, we search out Wi-Fi connections with the determination of a starving child. We want so much to be connected that we settle for the fast, efficient, and dependable “digital hit” instead of earning slow genuine contact. This fixation on finding the closest “glowing rectangle” to feed our habit is especially dangerous in mountain towns, where the consequences of attempting what you see on social media are severe.

The volume of images that portray people surviving extreme sports lends the impression that these undertakings are safer than they really are, normalizing what is really an abnormal undertaking. “Extreme” sports are now just perceived as “normal” sports. This is due in part to the photos that do not make the cut, as athletes tend to turn off their Instagram accounts during their six-month recovery from injury. We push athletes further, faster, and into more dangerous situations when we choose to “like” photos in high risk situations and ignore pictures of what we deem to be mundane. This brings to question: Who is more to blame when an extreme athlete dies? The athlete or the crowd that cheers them on? Similar to the audience in the “Hunger Games,” we applaud these athletes when they succeed, but we log in to the show to see if they fail. We forget that one picture doesn’t tell the whole story and that no matter how many followers you get on Instagram the digital world can’t bring you back from the dead.

Social media also gives us a skewed version of reality that can unconsciously pressure us to keep up with the Joneses. Based on my Facebook page, for example, you might assume that I don’t have a job and basically summit peaks on a daily basis. Knowing this is not true, I still feel like I’m missing out when I stare at others’ outdoor adventures from my office desk. Sometimes I feel like an adventure didn’t happen if I didn’t document it, post about it and get enough likes to deem it cool enough. The identity we then portray on social media becomes a false caricature that we have carefully chosen for public consumption. The image and persona we set forth then become the standard we feel pressured to maintain. If you look on my profile, you will only see pictures of me in the outdoors, as I have conveniently forgotten to post photos of me sitting on the couch. Selective identity management, which is commonly used on social media, can have devastating results as we take unnecessary risks in order to control how others perceive us.

So, will I be shutting down my Facebook account? Hell no. Why? Because it’s exciting to see what others are accomplishing in the mountains and I like being inspired by the athletic feats of those around me. Facebook and other social media outlets are not evil; they are just the supply chain for the increasing demand that humans have to somehow feel connected in this increasingly digital world. However, from now on I can’t blindly scroll through my homepage in ignorance and instead have to think before I click. With my eyes open, I choose to give social media a second chance and not take it so seriously this time around. I do this because social media has exposed itself as a charade we can laugh at and join in the parade. Let’s enjoy the show without letting it consume our thoughts. After all, the less time spent on one’s computer means more time spent outdoors. PJH

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