social competition

image: Paweł L.
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By FRANCISCO FERNANDES LADEIRA*

With the worldwide computer network, social competitiveness has been raised to unimaginable levels.

The internet, without a doubt, is one of the greatest achievements of mankind. With regard to the dissemination of information, it finds historical parallels only in the inventions of writing and the printing press. However, more than a means of communication, the internet is also a powerful platform for social comparison, where people compete with each other about who has the most beautiful family, attends the most popular parties, travels to the best beaches, owns the happier relationship or eat at the finest restaurants.

Preliminarily, it is important to emphasize that man, as a gregarious being, is constituted as such through contact with the other. My self-image is perceived from what I think about myself and what others think about me. Therefore, comparison is inherent in human beings.

However, with the worldwide computer network, social competitiveness was raised to unimaginable levels. In my opinion, this transformation of the internet into a “social comparison platform” has two fundamental points: the emergence of social networks and the popularization of the smartphone.

In the middle of the first decade of this century, Orkut, the first large-scale social network, ushered in the era of online social competition. At the time, comparisons between virtual profiles were still quite timid, as Orkut did not have features that are essential for an individual's virtual success, such as the possibility of having a large number of friends (or followers), use of photo filters and, above all, access was not via mobile devices, a factor that prevented people from experiencing certain situations and sharing them simultaneously in their virtual profiles.

It is a fact that, for exhibitionism on the world wide web, Facebook has more resources than Orkut. The famous hashtag “departed” already allowed the user to inform his main daily steps. However, online competitiveness only reached stratospheric levels with Instagram, a social network based essentially on images and videos.

Accessed mainly by application, via smartphone, Instagram allows the sharing of photos and videos at the exact moment of events, regardless of physical and temporal barriers, making “real life” (offline) and “virtual life” (online) get confused.

Unlike Orkut, when it was necessary to download photos to the computer to later post them; on Instagram, anytime, anywhere, people are participating in the competition for virtual success.

In this sense, Instagram Stories – a function of the application that allows the publication of photos and videos that are displayed for twenty-four hours – stands out as the great contemporary space for social comparison. Over there, that gourmet dinner, the exuberant landscape, the perfect workout or the presence in the international show are not restricted to me, they are seen by the world.

The more “likes” I get, the more positive comments I receive, the more envy I awaken. Therefore, more virtual prestige, more my ego is validated (at least during the twenty-four hours duration of a story). In this way, sharing a particular experience on Instagram Stories – whether through photos or videos – becomes more important than “living the experience itself”.

On the other hand, tying self-esteem to success in the virtual sphere has certain side effects. As recent studies have shown, the pleasure obtained from “likes” in posts on Instagram Stories (and on social networks in general) is similar to that experienced by users of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

Consequently, over time, it is necessary to increase the dose (in this case, posts on Instagram Stories) to generate the same pleasurable effect as before. And so another vicious cycle is formed. Not by chance, much has been said nowadays about pathologies related to (bad) use of the internet, such as Selfie Esteem, Nomophobia, Phantom Touch Syndrome, and Internet Addiction Disorder.

In short, in this conflict of vanities that Instagram Stories has become, there are no winners, but false and ephemeral feelings of well-being. It is a game whose batten will be higher and higher after a post receives more likes, views and comments than the previous one. To paraphrase a popular saying: “the story neighbor's is always greener than ours”.

Unfortunately, there are no signs of change in this troubled scenario. On the contrary, with the futility of fashion and the possibility of new tools available for those who want to forge the image of a perfect life, there is a strong tendency for the social competitiveness on Instagram Stories to become even more fierce and harmful.

*Francisco Fernandes Ladeira is a doctoral candidate in geography at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The ideology of international news (CRV Publisher).

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