buying friends and followers

two emails hit my inbox at nearly the same time today. one was from an acquaintance who is a licensed professional counselor expressing surprise and sadness in response to her adolescent clients’ drive to acquire friends and followers on social networks. she was wondering if i could suggest resources for these kids (and their grown ups) regarding how to live healthily in this new race-for-friends reality. the second was from a stranger who had been “checking out my online presence” and wanted to extend to me a “special opportunity to expand my reach and build my following.” long story short, for a mere $100 he was offering to provide me with 1,000 facebook likes, 1,000 new twitter followers, or 10,000 youtube views. how thoughtful.

this is not a first. when my blog hit a certain number or followers and my professional facebook page began getting more traffic, the offers started rolling in. they elicit the same thought every time. “you think you’re having an impact now? just wait and see what will happen when you APPEAR to be having an even larger one!” who cares if the followers/friends/likes/views come from real, embodied people; if i SEEM important, i will become important.

it sort of makes me feel sick.

what makes me feel this way isn’t only the offers. it’s my response, which is, every time, to consider them. it is embarrassing to admit this.

i believe at the core of our being is a need to be seen. to be known. in my own narrative this is why God wired infants’ eyes to be able to focus only about as far as the crook of their parents arms to their gazing eyes for a long while after birth. it’s why we long to be gazed lovingly at as we grow. this same need is also why we are so sensitive to negative looks. critical glances. evil eyes.

in our current digital reality we so often trade the wishlongingneed to be known for an ability to be seen. we’ve traded self awareness and self love for self promotion. we/i toy with buying followers, friends, and likes. even if we don’t spend money for them we spend time and energy and attention to garner them. sometimes there is no cost and it’s pure fun or connection or information giving/gathering.

but sometimes it is not those things. sometimes we really believe that the numbers are what matters. 10,000 views are better than 500. 50 likes means more than 10. and so on and so forth. even if, perhaps especially if, we don’t admit it...we notice.

so i ask you now to hold me accountable and i am willing to do so for you. let’s gaze at each other in all the meaningfulgrowing ways and not in the inflatingthefalseself ways that we so naturally gravitate toward in today’s “bigger is better” economy. remind me that love is the only currency that buys friends and likes and that having followers pales in comparison to being known.