What does a thumbs up really mean?

Remember the days before social media? When we used to talk to each other directly, and success wasn’t judged by virtual likes and followers? When being “Insta-famous” wasn’t a accomplishment to put on your resumé?

Don’t get me wrong, social media is a fantastic platform for creating global communities and connections; it allows me to write blogs, take photos, and share them with the world. But have you noticed that a click of the thumbs up means more than a comment? And that people are more concerned with securing new “followers” than actually making real connections?

We don’t communicate like we used to.

It’s true that a photograph speaks a thousand words, but we don’t talk about the photograph anymore. We “like” it.

Status updates let our friends know what we’re up to, but we don’t talk about how things are actually going. We “like” it.

At some point, we stopped communicating with words. Instead, “likes” and emojis became the international language for “I acknowledge your activity in the world and this is how it makes me feel.”

Yes, I’m on social media and currently participating in a one-way conversation.

I’m as guilty as the next person. Scroll-Like-Scroll-Like-Scroll-Like. I could say that I do it because I live far away from everyone I know, and in response to having no community, I’m reaching out to a virtual community and taking part in a global conversation. Partly true. However, a community assumes at least a two-way interaction and “likes” don’t count for anything meaningful.

The truth is, I use social media on a daily basis because I’m lonely and bored, and honestly, I just want to have a voice.

For me, social media is a vital platform to ensure I don’t go crazy in my own head. But now that I’m fully engaged in it, I’m encountering its pitfalls and recognising that social media doesn’t actually do what it says on the tin. “Likes” and “follows” have replaced its defining purpose to foster community-centered input and interaction.

We can’t cultivate community if we’re constantly feeding the popularity contest.

Why is it that numbers are more comforting than people? In a lot of ways we all seek approval, whether in our personal or professional lives. In this sense, social media provides a tangible means through which we can measure approval via popularity and “likes.” As much as we remind ourselves that how well we’re doing on social media is not an indicator of how well we’re doing in real life, gaining approval from friends and strangers, and seeing those numbers rise is oddly satisfying and addictive.

Here lies the problem. In broad terms, popularity necessitates that we are better than somebody else; getting more “likes” means getting more support. Yet when I think of community, I think of equals. In the social media game where we’re trying to be better or more talented than somebody else, community spirit falls by the wayside.

At the end of the day, I still enjoy social media and I’m not about to quit. It’s an outlet to be creative and to be inspired, and most importantly, a way to feel connected with the world. Social media allows me to have a voice and a presence within a virtual community, and it offers a unique platform for world- and self-discovery.

Nevertheless, let’s not forget the “social” imperative of social media. Sure, that includes the “like” and “follow” buttons, but it also involves interacting meaningfully with your online community. After all, community is what social media is built on.

Don’t be an anonymous thumbs up, share your words and opinions. Giving a voice to your thumb reminds us that, somewhere in the world, there’s a very real person attached to it.



“I like you even if I don’t have thumbs to prove it!”
Come and interact with me on Instagram @kateisbritish!