SO I am starting this post with the word SO because I’ve spent the past extremely hectic 24 hours channelling teenage girldom and that’s what they seem to do the whole time. And, when they’re not starting sentences with SO, they are feverishly Instagramming, Tweeting, Snapchatting, WhatsApping and just generally pressing buttons to register stuff for an audience of people they mostly don’t know and will never meet. It’s completely exhausting.
Why on earth was I putting myself through this? I have two teenage girls of my own, so I could have just spent five seconds observing them, then shrugged and got on with my own more sedate life. But, after reading some truly harrowing statistics about girls’ use of social media, I wanted to see how it felt to be caught up in that world for once, instead of being on the outside.
Dove, which is sponsoring the Women in the World global summit today and tomorrow at Cadogan Hall in London, is kicking off a new #NoLikesNeeded campaign to show girls that the only ‘like’ that counts is their own. Developing the campaign, they delved into the habits of girls from 13-23 and discovered that 50 per cent say they use a social network ‘all the time’ – they have it on in the background no matter what else they are doing. Girls also take an average of 9 selfies before they are happy enough to post one to Instagram or Facebook. They spend about 12 minutes doing their hair and makeup for each mini photo-shoot. The average UK girl receives 24 likes on a photo – but they say they would prefer five times that number to feel validated. And, the saddest statistic of all, 24 per cent of 13-23 year olds said they would rather get 50 likes than a hug.
So (that So again) I agreed to tweet like a teenager, for Dove, for one day only. I also agreed that I wouldn’t get a hug from anyone until I’d got 50 likes for a photo. Now I never usually use Facebook, except as a conduit for my blog, but I duly wrote a post, and took a couple of terrible pictures, and I watched to see how many likes I got.
A few were chalked up immediately, one almost the second I’d finished posting, and I smugly thought this would be a breeze. But then the flow stopped. My anxiety mounted. This wasn’t meant to happen. At this point, normally, I would have shrugged, walked away and done something else. But I had promised to keep these stupid social media channels open all day, so I could see only too clearly the tsunami of likes I wasn’t getting. Meanwhile, I could see other people getting avalanches of likes on their snaps of cute kittens, adorable toddlers and autumn leaves. Ok, so what was wrong with my nightshirt and selfie combo? I was hurt, and a bit sad. Worse, I began to feel quite possessed by the ludicrous idea that I had to get likes. Even I wasn’t clear any more whether I was doing it for the hugs or for the likes – or maybe just to feel that I hadn’t been totally publicly humiliated by NOT getting likes.
I started shamelessly promoting my Facebook post on Twitter. A few more hits came along. Then I began to beg for likes without even any preamble. Along the way I learned some useful things. First, my privacy settings on Facebook, initiated when I joined umpteen years ago, were stuck in the dark ages and preventing the wider world from liking my post. So I changed them, thinking it would then take seconds to clock up the necessary 50. Again, an initial flurry got my hopes up. But then the moment seemed to pass. In a world with the attention span of a gnat, my post and my big likes problem soon became other people’s distant memory. I began to despair.
Then a friend offered to ‘share’ my post in the US. Another offered to do the same somewhere else. Then came an extra flurry of kind UK friends and the likes were finally coming my way. In the midst of it all, someone pointed out that they couldn’t comment as I hadn’t ‘friended’ them. I immediately delved into the dusty files of friend requests that I never usually quite get around to dealing with. In seconds I was pressing the ‘accept’ button with abandon. Then I realised I was actually asking other people to friend me, not the other way around. All day I’ve been dealing with the aftermath, as slightly baffled strangers kindly accede to my hasty late-night pleas to be best buddies.
After a feverish day begging strangers to like me, it was hard to turn my phone off, even at midnight. Facebook notifications were still regularly lighting up my inbox, I had stuff going on via Twitter and even my Instagram account, dormant for a year, was creaking into life displaying a collection of rather rubbish selfies. This morning, I could hardly get out of bed and face the grim task of publicising myself frantically on four different media channels.
Then I realised that, thank God, I don’t have to. The challenge is over. Yes, I got over 50 likes (and thank you, thank you, THANK YOU if one was from you) but was it worth the effort? Absolutely not. I don’t want to be the one-woman publicity machine pushing my wannabe self into the public eye. Life just below the parapet suits me fine and, if this is how teenage girls do it, then praise be for middle age. Meanwhile, I shall be watching my own teenage daughters like a hawk and, if they show the least signs of behaving as crazily as I have over the last 24 hours, I shall throw their phones, tablets and laptops straight into the nearest bin.