“Are you doing this work to facilitate growth or become famous?” — excerpt from the intro of J. Cole’s song “The Climb Back”
First, let me say this. I LOVE SOCIAL MEDIA.
Here’s a few reasons why: 1) anyone with a smartphone can find their niche and create a name for themselves. 2) There is a new and catchy trend every week (most of them I can’t keep up with but I still love them). 3) Validation. I love to see people — especially underdogs — climb their way to the top and grow their audiences. 4) The money. There is money to be made through social media. A lot of it.
But living in the age of social media might be hurting us more than it is helping us. And what I came to recently discover may have confirmed that.
I joined the Young Black and Lit Professionals Group Chat — or YBLP — two years ago because of the Clubhouse hype. It’s a GroupMe members-only chat I joined what now feels like a decade ago during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns. I laughed when I saw the title of the chatroom: Lit-Ass Young Professionals: Building and Working. I had to see what the fanfare was all about.
Boredom was my Band-Aid to cover the trending wound and growing pandemic in social media culture. The wound is what I like to call IG — InstaGratification. I guarantee you know someone who is suffering from it now, in real life or at least on your timeline. I wish there was a vaccine for it.
When I joined YBLP, I felt social-media pressured. Virtually depressed. I bought into the popular saying, now a meme, that had me and most of Black Twitter in a chokehold: If you don’t come out this pandemic differently, then you missed the whole point.
But as time passed in that group chat, I realized I had a front row seat to adults concerned only with social media clout and going viral.
@FitnesswitDon: “Most of these Baltimore trainers are fat and don’t have a blue check”
@StyledbyKey: “Bitch I just need to make two wigs,,, that’s $1800 and 30k likes”
@_Neecybabbiii: “If Fashionova notice one of my shoots then @TheShaderoom will too”
@RunEmUPJAY: “Why would Meek Mill sign YG Teck and not me I got way more followers”
I decided to leave the GroupMe, but realized that the conversation had already disappeared. I had been removed. I never said much anyway and I probably would never be friends with anyone in that chat in real life. They all act fake bougie and say “grand rising.” They’re the type of Black people to criticize you if you’re not reading “Rich Dad Poor Dad” or “The 48 Laws of Power.”
I noticed in the group chat that everyone was competing with each other’s algorithm, not realizing that they are only random highlights.
You post something worth talking about and the apps reward you. You get your timeline lit and all the clout comes your way, no matter if your content is positive or negative, inspirational or damaging. It’s no wonder the majority of social media users are feeding into that rush.
My generation and especially the younger generation are more concerned with social media virality than actually becoming better at what they are attempting to go viral for. The reality is alarming.
Whose story is most viewed and shared. What video is most replayed. Who is scrolled over. Who has a blue check and who does not. Who lives. Who dies and is mourned. Who is “the one” and who ain’t. Whose birthday is it? Who’s broke and who has the most money. Who’s a meme? Who is getting trolled and who is #goals. Your timeline has the ultimate say so.
Social media these days is a constant filtered timeline, so exhausting that long term effects on the human brain could be crippling. According to recent studies, the human attention span is shrinking. Meaning the demand for content creators to quickly hook your attention is a necessary additive.
And people are going to great lengths for recognition. Recently, while at the grocery store, I saw three men arrested for vandalizing multiple aisles — all in the name of their YouTube account, which features random pranks. A customer in line as I checked out kept shaking her head and saying, “All that for views” as the three men sat on the ground apprehended by police.
And then there are the people who throw their goals away because they feel like they can’t live up to the social media status quo. This crushes their confidence and prohibits them from unlocking their true potential. This may be the worst affected group — the ones who believe success lives and dies by social media validation.
As an educator, I see it most here. I had a student in summer school tell me, “I’m not listening to an educational video that has less than a million views and 10k subscribers.” Yes, adults have it bad, but the younger generation may be suffering more. Misinformation and false realities push them to to adapt and conform. Instant gratification, clout chasing and internet drama is their way of life. It’s poison to dreams — and we must kill this idea.
We must understand that true success doesn’t come right away, even if social media timelines suggest it does. So many talented people are waiting their turn to have mass audiences — and they deserve that recognition and blue check. But to only “do the work” for Instagram is insane.
If this instant gratification era is our new way of life, then we must learn that everyone is running their own personal race and the foundation is not defined by social media status. Your path to the finish line won’t be the same as someone else’s.
And that’s fine. We have to be content with times when we are recognized and times we are not. We have to show our youths that both of those statuses are okay. Growth is never about instant gratification, it’s always about preparation.
Wallace Lane is a teacher, poet, writer and author from Baltimore and a Creative in Residence at the Baltimore Banner.