There’s no doubt that peer pressure is one of the strongest driving forces in life.
Humans need to belong to a community. It’s one of our basic needs. We also need to be accepted and “liked” by our community.
For centuries now, humanity has been driven by peer pressure in so many ways.
In some cases, gravitation and mass community movements allowed humanity to accomplish great deeds, while in other cases, peer pressure and blind conformism drove humanity to utter destruction.
On the other hand, we continue to be surrounded by individual achievements that revolutionize the way we live, ones that could not have been possible without a keen individualistic drive and the need for people to differentiate themselves.
Add social media to the mix, and on the surface it may appear to have given every individual a voice. However, if you carefully study the forces driving social media, you’ll see that it’s mostly all about mass acceptance and conformism.
To make a clearer point, let’s think of the peer pressure we faced at school: What to wear, how to speak, what music to listen to, where to hang out and who to hang out with? All these where ideas that we were expected to conform to in order to fit in.
FOMO (fear of missing out) is not a 21st century cultural invention. It’s always been there. At certain stages of our lives we all want to be part of the “in-crowd”.
However, once you insert social media into the mix, FOMO becomes this exponentially amplified force. Peer pressure on steroids. A force so erosive that individual thoughts and ideas get easily oppressed. Resulting in a one-flavor community.
If you scan the social media scene around you at any given period of time, you will notice lots of “trending topics”, whether it’s sharing the same fashion statements, same food joints, using the same exercising techniques, the same buzz words and hashtags, attending the same events, aspiring to travel to the same sunny destinations … etc.
True, we’ve always had trends in fashion, music, activities … etc, however, we’ve never had millions of people being exposed to these trends daily, and millions more being able to share them with one click.
The most dangerous thing social media did to individualism is the rise of mass extroversion: the need to share our experiences publicly for the experience to be complete.
We need to show thousands of people who may be distant acquaintances that we are doing cool stuff and buying cool things everyday. It’s becoming a real competition.
It started as a new fun trend in the early 2000’s. Today, social sharing has become an addictive trend that dominates our online behavior.
Not only that. But now, and in addition to having many platforms for sharing our experiences with millions, we also have the tools that allow us to edit and beautify these experiences … In the process turning us into our own publicists!
I know that many of us may be shaking our heads in disapproval while reading this, denying this newly created, overcompensating, mass extrovert in us, but I urge you to go and visit your Instagram feed for the past few months. When was the last time you posted something different? Or uncool? Something only you and maybe a very small group of your real friends can get? Something your community REALLY needs to know about? Maybe even a sick-day bad hair selfie?
For most of us, not in a long time.
We’re all guilty of needing to share our “cool” experiences to feel fulfilled. And we ALL enjoy getting above average “likes”.
It’s becoming less and less about how our experiences make us feel. And more and more about how our experiences make us look.
Think about it.
This of course is causing us to neglect building our true inner selves and is shifting our focus to external gratification.
So, the main question today for us as current or future parents is: how can we protect our digital native kids from becoming conformists afraid of leaving the pack and carving out their own path?
How can we lead by example?
I know a number of friends who went through a true purge of their social networks to ensure they only share meaningful things with close friends. Would that be an answer? Or is it just about what we share, not who we share it with?
Why doesn’t Facebook / Instagram add a dislike button? Wouldn’t that help people break out of the conformism mold? Wouldn’t that create a self-healing mechanism for all the over sharing that is happening.
There’s really no silver bullet.
But what I am honestly trying to say is – despite being a big fan of everything social since day one – I’m starting to see less and less value in the theatricals of social sharing, which seem abundant nowadays, and more value for being in the moment, and I know I’m not alone in thinking that way.
Needless to say, this all is coming from a man who once checked in to his toilet seat on foursquare. So this article is not meant to pass judgement on any specific person’s social behavior.
As always, all thoughts are welcome!