Do remember racing home from school, throwing your bookbag on the counter and charging up the stairs to your Nintendo so you could play a few levels of Super Mario Bros before mom gets home and tells you to stop playing games and do your homework? You’d be eyeing the clock as you blew into the machine. You’d insert and remove the (card? disk? memory chip?) until the flickering lines on the screen finally cleared and then BAM, you were ready to play. Then you’d use all your secret tactics to blast through the first three levels, gaining as many coins and extra mushroom-lives as you could. I never won though. Mom always got home and told me I had to get going on my homework.
Well I’m not into gaming as an adult, but I’m regretfully into social media. And much of it feels the same as my wasted hours spent on Super Mario Bros back in the early 1990’s. I pick up my phone and point my finger to my Instagram app. I feel guilty that someone might be watching me, but I just want to see how much engagement my recent post is getting. It got 25 new likes! Woo hoo! My addiction is pacified for the moment so I set the phone down.
We’re taught that we need to “win” with social media. But you never win. There’s no music and castles with fireworks when you get to the next level. It’s the game that never ends. With Instagram, we can’t utilize certain features until we have 10k followers (which I don’t have), so the first “level” is to get to 10k. But after that, you might not get recognition from international companies (publishing companies, advertising, branding) until you have 100k. This game steps past the virtual barriers into our real world. Who are you as a person without an online following?
The algorithms change daily it seems, so we have to figure out the next trick to get as many likes and followers as we can. The “influencers” seem to have it figured out, perhaps through a secret hackers network that the rest of us don’t know about. Unlike Super Mario Bros which you could guarantee the turtle would always appear at the exact moment each time, this game changes. It’s intuitive, it’s interactive. But the intrigue, captivation and addiction has remained the same.
Our world has turned into Super Mario Bros. Our best friends are virtual Luigi’s and our girlfriends are Princess Peach’s with 100k followers, looking pretty damn incredible to the outside world via airbrushes and filters. We only seem to communicate with acronyms and emojis. I wonder if the younger generation even knows how to write in cursive? Remember old chat rooms with creeps hanging around? Those are now your followers.
We grew up with this infatuation of video games, and of winning, and now life has turned into one big adult video game where you strive to get the most coins and excel to the next levels. Except this one is never ending. And as an adult, mom won’t come home in an hour and tell you to do your homework. So be mindful. Don’t let your life slip by by living virtually. Remember to make these connections in real life. Call up a friend if their dog died. Don’t just give them a sadface emoji on their post. Set down the phone during the next sunset and just view it. Life is happening right in front of you. Stop staring at your phone. Stop trying to “win” this virtual game, because I promise you, you won’t.