One of the more interesting phenomena I’ve come across in some of my research on college student interactions through social media is something I call the “Cult of the Like.” The “Like,” or the “Favorite,” or whatever your preferred social media network happens to call it, is a way of indicating agreement, acknowledgement, or affinity for a social media posting. Facebook’s own help section describes it as follows:
Although “the like” is a seemingly benign action, for the current generation of young adults, often referred to as the Millennial Generation, it seems to mean much more. When speaking recently with an undergraduate student, I asked about “the like.” The student described it as follows:
“When you’re on social media it’s a whole idea of having that mindset of self-affirmation through social media. People posting statuses in order to get them liked and see how many likes you can get. I try not to be that way, but… It’s self-affirmation and you’re worth their time if they’re responding to you.”
In this case, liking a post on social media is much more than “letting someone know you enjoy something without leaving a comment,” as Facebook suggests. Instead, it seems to be tied into concepts of self-esteem and self-worth and there are a growing number of studies looking at the relationship between online life and these concepts.
Complicating this further are the characteristics of the young adults that make up this generation. Millennials, typically defined as individuals been born between 1980 and 2000, are often described as a generation that is used to and expects to receive constant praise. They are also referred to as “Trophy Kids,” because they grew up during a time when even mere participation in an event often resulted in recognition through a certificate or other reward. Additionally the Millennials were reared by “helicopter parents,” or moms and dads that “hovered” over them as children; protecting them, praising them, and doing things for them every step of the way.
When one combines the characteristics of the Millennial generation with the self-esteem implications of social media use, it creates an environment with interesting implications. Some questions I ask myself include:
- How does this generation understand and make sense of social media? How is this different from other generations?
- How does one of a different generation (which some call a digital immigrant) successfully navigate and translate across this digital divide with a Millennial (or digital native)?
- Lastly, as an educator and supervisor of many Millennials, how does this impact practice? How can I act in a way that best promotes the happiness and success of individuals that make up this generation?
The Millennial Generation was the subject of a recent episode of The Diane Rehms show on NPR.
An infographic on Millenials in the workforce (find out more from the creators MBA@UNC):