What you need to know:
- What causes us to share photos of ourselves with strangers? Is there something missing in our real lives?
- On the same breath, why do some people choose to keep off social media in this modern world?
Social media has become a key component of many people’s lives. So important is the invention that most people check their online notifications even before they get out of bed in the morning. Question is, what do we look for on these sites? Why do we feel compelled to take a photo of the food we are eating and post it even before we taste it? What causes us to share photos of ourselves with strangers? Is there something missing in our real lives?
On the same breath, why do some people choose to keep off social media in this modern world? This week, we speak to four young people who are on either extreme of social media use – those who put up as many as three posts a day, and those who don’t share any pictures, comments or posts at all.
Victor Ogutu, 24
Although one can easily be tempted to judge someone by their social media posts, I avoid it because people lie a lot on that platform. Additionally, I don’t make conclusions about people based on a single post. You have to frequently post about something for me to be convinced that that is who you really are and that is what you do.
I only put up posts on social media when I want to share something with others, or when I want to share details of an event I am hosting.
I own a company called Fashion and Management Company which promotes African fashion across the world, and also manages artists and businesses. To achieve our objectives, I host events such as Street Fashion 254 which promotes African wear.
Therefore, my posts are mostly work-related. Whenever I am hosting an event, I share lots of posters about it. I also post links where my followers can access the work of the artists we manage.
The way people react to my posts, especially on Instagram, matters a lot to me. I camp on my page whenever I’ve posted something and check how many people have seen it and whether the views are increasing. I get very happy when old friends and acquaintances see my posts because it lets them know that I am working hard.
If someone comments on my post, I always reply to it. Positive reactions from my followers make me happy. If I get a negative comment, I always try to find out where I went wrong and what I can change.
There are things I can never put up on my page. For example, I can’t post photos of myself with my partner or even profess my love for them on social media. Additionally, I can’t post a photo where I don’t look handsome. That is why I rarely share my photos. I often find that the pictures I have of myself are not good enough. If I don’t think the picture will receive many positive reactions, I don’t put it up.
Regular posting on social media has its downsides. Because I usually share details of the events I am hosting, people think I have a lot of money and that I am a celeb. The truth is that I go through the same problems, only that I always have to look good because of the nature of my work. My appearance is part of the marketing strategy both for myself and for the events I host. Sometimes I meet people who want me to buy them lunch or drinks, and I struggle to explain that my life is very similar to theirs.
The good thing is that my social media posts have really helped me grow my brand. As of now, over 1,000 people know about my company FAMCO and over 8,000 know about my fashion events. These are numbers I couldn’t have achieved without social media.
Lynn Makena, 24
Six years ago, I bought my first smartphone, downloaded Instagram and created an account. At that time, being on Instagram was cool and I was just jumping on the trend. However, things changed when I met a friend who advised me to grow my following on Instagram by following other users.
I heeded her advice and during that period, the number of likes I got mattered a lot to me. I used to get over 1,000 likes on my posts, which were mostly selfies that were not even good enough by my standards. It then hit me that people just pressed the like button, even those who didn’t know me. It did not mean they actually liked me or my photo.
It is the same thing we do whenever we encounter posts from celebrities. We like their posts, but in reality, we know very little about them. Having people who genuinely care about you is way more important than accumulating likes on social media. That realisation changed my perspective and I decided to solely focus on doing the things that I liked.
When I initially opened my Instagram account, I had no goal. However, when I joined the University of Nairobi to pursue sociology, one of my cousins challenged me to use my account to make money. This informed my decision to work on growing my following.
Today, I have over 18,000 followers.
I am very active on social media, and I always have a Story running on my account, be it a funny meme or video. When I go out, I post photos of the places I am in and the food and drinks I am having, accompanied by a witty caption. When I look and feel good, the first thing I do is take a photo and upload. Looking and feeling good is usually a strong motivation to take a picture. The only thing I can’t share online is details about my love life, my family and personal life.
My social media activity helped me grow my page significantly, and I started partnering with startups to market their products and services. I got a lot of rejections at first but this year, I got my first paying partnership.
Realising that the number of likes I got didn’t matter was the game changer for me. Now, I look at my Instagram page as my professional profile and brand. Through my account, I have managed to get advertising gigs which have helped me get pocket money. I’ve also been approached by friends who pay me to do their makeup on special occasions. For me, social media has turned out to be an avenue for making money, and I don’t regret sharing too much about my life. My life is private, but not a secret.
Zipporah Munuhe, 22
There was a time I used to be very active on social media, especially during the gap years between high school and university. Whereas I used to put up so many posts, I don’t think it was an addiction. Most of my posts were about the key events happening in my life. I would post pictures of myself, my friends, my family, places I’ve visited and the happy occurrences in my life. I would post everything except on instances when I didn’t think I looked good.
In retrospect, I believe my social media use was influenced by how I wanted society to view me. I was seeking external validation. I was there for the likes and comments. Sometimes I would put up a picture and then spend the whole day anxiously wondering why I wasn’t getting so many likes. I kept asking myself, “Did I not look a certain way? What can I do to get more comments next time?”
There was also the issue of comparison and competition. I used to put myself against my friends who seemed to be doing better than me on social media. I was simply seeking recognition from all the wrong places instead of first finding value in myself.
In 2018, I completely stopped posting on social media. I was going through a breakup and was unlearning so much about myself. I had gotten into the habit of posting nice pictures of myself just to spite my ex. It stopped being about showing people how great my life was and became about showing my former partner that I was doing well and that it didn’t matter to me that our relationship had ended.
I reflected on this and decided to stop pegging my happiness on external forces. I wanted to be authentic and realised that social media had changed who I was and how I felt about myself.
Change was hard for me because deep down, I still wanted to show my friends how good my life was. Seeing other people’s posts on Facebook made me feel like posting about my life too. I think we always try to compete against each other and that is the problem because at the end of the day, there’s no one who is perfect. We all have different destinies. The fact that I am not posting on Instagram doesn’t mean I am doing OK, and just because I put up three posts every day doesn’t mean I am doing better than everyone else.
Sometimes I feel like getting back to my old posting habits but I remind myself that I am happier when I don’t anchor my happiness on other people’s actions and perceptions.
When I was putting up several posts on social media, my life was exciting. But now, I live a quiet life. It is quite boring, but I prefer that because I don’t have to worry about wearing a good dress or faking a smile. I take pictures but I don’t put them up for others to critique. Unlike in the past, I can enjoy my quiet moments without feeling the need to modify my surroundings.
I have learnt that I don’t need external validation. I just need to be OK with myself. My self-esteem has really improved because I don’t compare myself with or compete against anyone.
That is what I set out to do: To be more authentic.
Nelius Njoroge, 21
There was a time I used to put up funny memes simply to entertain my followers. I felt that by posting the memes, I could be brightening someone else’s day. My other motivation for posting was the pressure to be like others. When I completed high school, social media was the in thing. Being the open girl that I was, any event or adventure that I went to had to be posted on my account. Whenever I ate in expensive restaurants, I posted it for my followers to see. My WhatsApp was also always full of funny memes and texts expressing my emotions at the time.
I did all that to show my friends that I was living the good life. However, I had a genuine desire to inspire and educate people through posting motivational content.
Things started changing when I joined college. I had so much on my plate, and making posts on Facebook began feeling like a chore. Gradually, I began posting less pictures of myself. Unconsciously, I weaned myself off the high I used to get from posting on social media because I was always occupied. Eventually I realised that I enjoyed myself more when didn’t feel pressured to put up a post online.
I thought hard and felt that by posting regularly on social media, I was exposing too much personal information to irrelevant people who could use the knowledge against me. That caused me to abandon my previous habits.
I no longer put up any posts, but I don’t think that is wrong. There are people who share their lives online to inspire others to live better lives while others share valuable, educational content. On the extreme end, there are those who use social media to build a facade. I think social media use is something very personal.
I have come to love my quiet life where I visit places and take pictures, but without feeling the need to share them for others to see. I live in my own world and I think others are free to choose how they want to use and consume social media. We all can’t want the same thing.