The Race to Internet Popularity

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The Race to Internet Popularity

Apr 24, 2020

I was about 10 years old when I first started using Facebook, and funnily enough, it all started from an earthquake. Nothing says rebellious and trendy in elementary school quite like a 5th grader posing as a 13-year-old in order to create a Facebook. Naturally, all of us felt the social inclination to post about the earthquake on social media in order to feel “in.” From then on, Facebook became a strange cultural phenomenon where kids posted irrelevant statuses, grainy photos taken on blackberries, and virtually “poked” each other. Soon enough, our social relevance was now measured based on the number of Facebook Friends we had. Thus, the race to internet popularity was born.

By the time I reached junior high, every student and their mothers had an iPhone, and God forbid you didn’t, for that would make you a digital recluse. One could imagine what a 13 year old with a digital brick and unlimited 3g data could get away with. We took Facebook activity to a whole new level by posting all of our albums featuring vacation photos, graduation ceremonies, and holidays. Now, we were racing for likes and comments. Our physical presence in the world now accounted for only 50% of our identity, the other half was determined by our Facebook profile. Every little thing we did, accomplished, and whined about was on full blast on the internet. High school crushes in Freshman year were identifiable via their Facebook profile, and mutual friends became the liaisons for sending friend requests to said crushes. Our whole life starting from 10 was mapped and documented on our digital profiles.

We thought this was going to be the worst of it, then Instagram and Snapchat were propelled into social stardom. Now, we not only had to post photos, but they had to be aesthetically pleasing as well. Gone were the days of having 25+ adequate photos uploaded at once, now, we aimed to find that singular, perfect photo to show that we were living the high life, at 15. While most of my female friends were early adopters of Instagram, I, along with the pranksters of my era, were bigger fans of Snapchat. We sent memes and irrelevant photos for the sake of comedy. Soon enough, Instagram became so big that it became a go-to platform for artists, startup founders, comedians, and e-commerce sites. Our day to day leisure was anchored in the app. Friendships were bound by Instagram loyalty, and trends were reported first by our feeds.

By the time college rolled around, Instagram solidified itself as the primary source of information for finding anyone. But interestingly enough, 2020 gave us a glimpse of social media burnout. More and more people were deleting their Instagrams and wearing that as a badge of honor. The “Zillennials” who previously praised the platform were now wishing they could take their lives offline. Facebook responded to the digital evolution by experimenting with the removal of likes, similar to Snapchat’s tried and true system.

Nowadays, as I approach graduation, my social media usage has shifted towards LinkedIn, where the same tools of gratification are tinkered with, but instead, I focus on building networks with like-minded professionals and thought-leaders.

Lois Zhou, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: How old were you when you first started using social media? How have your social media habits changed over the years? The class covers copyright and social media. Lois is an Advertising major.

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