London, 2014

Dear friend,

One thought that I’ve been thinking about: why do we “need” more likes or followers? Do we desire more likes or followers because it boosts our self-esteem? Or because it helps validate our photography? Or because we want to gain more power, fame, money, and influence with our work? Or a little bit of everything?

Why do we need to upload a photograph everyday?

One of the things about the internet is that we always expect things to be updated. We love visiting blogs (myself included) where there is always “new content” everyday (sometimes several times a day).

With social media, we love the dopamine hit we get from our daily fix of likes/favorites/comments/new followers. It gives us a sense of progress, a sense of meaning, and happiness to get that feedback and external affirmation.

But honestly at the end of the day— it is all so silly.

“Enough” is never “enough”

I’ve recently made the link between money and social media followers. Both are based on numbers, and with both, the sky is the limit.

For example, we always want more money. There is never a limit to have “enough” money.

There was a study in which poor people, middle-class, and rich people were sent surveys asking, “How much more money would you need to be happy?” Across the board— all of them reported “needing” 10% more money to be truly “happy.”

Of course we all need money to survive. We have to buy food, pay the rent, pay for gas, and pay for other random costs of living. But beyond a certain point— we don’t really “need” any more money. Having more money is preferable, but do we really “need” it?

With social media— it is nice having followers and getting likes. But at what point do we realize that we have “enough” followers? Is that point 100 followers, 1000 followers, 10000 followers, or a million followers? Is there any point in which we can be satisfied with how many followers and likes we have?

I think not.

We will always adapt

LA, 2012

As human beings, “enough” is never enough. It is hard coded into our genes. It makes sense— we want more food, and no amount of food is enough, in order to prevent ourselves from starving.

When it comes to money, we fall victim to “hedonic adaptation” — whenever we earn a certain income, we get comfortable at that point. And if we want more pleasure in our lives, we think that earning more money will bring us true happiness.

However no matter how much money we earn, we will always adjust to the income we have.

The same goes with social media– no matter how many likes, followers, or comments we get, we will always get used to it.

For example my dream was to get at least 100 “favorites” in Flickr. Once I achieved that dream, 100 was my new standard. Whenever I got anything less than 100 favorites, I felt like a failure. Then I lusted after 200 favorites, 300 favorites, 500 favorites, and now even 1,000 favorites doesn’t seem like “enough”.

Throw in the gloves

So what is the key to end all this social media madness?

Easy– retire or decide not to play anymore.

I’m starting to realize that a lot of life is like playing a game. We are all trying to “win”, but we have no idea how to keep score. Therefore we use external markers; how much money we make, how many square feet our house is, how many cars we own, the brands of clothing we wear, and now how many social media followers we have.

But the problem is that life isn’t a game. We cannot quantify our self worth into digits.

To “win” in life is nothing but living a life full of purpose, meaning, and to share love with your community.

In photography, there is also no “winning” or “losing”; yet we also use external markers for our progress– like how many Instagram followers we have, how many books we’ve published, how expensive our cameras are, or the aperture of our lenses.

But also in photography, to be “successful” is to simply make photos that bring you joy, that brings others joy, and gives you a sense of calm and peace. You don’t need to live an “exciting” life to live a purposeful life as a photographer (just look at Saul Leiter or Vivian Maier— they truly shot for themselves).

What really matters in the end?

Marseille, 2012

At the end of your life, will you rest satisfied knowing that you have a million followers on social media? Will having a lot of books published under your name and in prestigious exhibitions bring you peace? Will traveling all around the world bring you satisfaction and joy?

Or will the simple things in photography bring you joy– sharing your photos with a few close friends, taking photos of what inspires you, and making photos you are proud of (even though others might not care).

Photography is all about an inner-journey; a process of getting to know yourself.

Disregard the likes, the followers, and the social media game. The only way to win the game of social media is to refuse to play by the rules set by others; and to set your own rules for your own game of photography and life.

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