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Life Without Likes


In 2015, Isa (pronounced EYE-sa) Watson was in her 30s, and was leading what appeared to be an almost perfect life. She had three college degrees under her belt and an impressive background as a research scientist – she’d been the youngest chemist ever to publish a paper. Isa was now living in New York, working on Wall Street at JP Morgan Chase, where she led billion-dollar strategic initiatives and traveled to Hong Kong.

But in reality, Watson’s life was, as she put it, messy. Within the previous five years, she’d dropped out of a Ph.D. program, broken up with her boyfriend in a way that left her feeling embarrassed, and ended a close friendship. Worst, her father had died suddenly in a highway accident. 

Isa hadn’t slept more than four hours a night in years, her hair was falling out, and she was understandably depressed.

But none of this showed up in her carefully curated Instagram feed. There, Isa appeared polished, happy, and practically perfect. And she was reaping the rewards: endless likes, and continuous validation.

The shifts that followed didn’t happen immediately or all at once. But by 2018, Watson had left New York and moved home to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to start a business. The business was successful, and Isa soon found herself featured in the pages of magazines like Forbes and Fast Company. All the while, she continued to maintain an Instagram feed that revealed only the positives in her life.

And then she suddenly deleted her account.

Isa says, “I woke up one day and I remember looking at my Instagram and scrolling through it, and I was like, ‘Wow, I do not recognize myself. I do not like that girl. That is not me.’”

Watson also realized she’d become addicted to the dopamine hits to be had from posting and sharing. She turned off like notifications for all her social media accounts and eventually turned off all social media notifications completely. 

Now, Isa posts whatever she wants, simply because she wants to post it. And, she says, she’s “so much happier.”

Addicted to likes

The average person will live 73 years – and will spend nearly six of those years on social media. The addiction to scrolling, posting, liking, and lurking is costing people not only time but life – the connection, warmth, joy, and growth that they could have had if they had logged off, set down their phones, and engaged more fully in the life around them.

In Life Beyond Likes, Watson aims to educate people on the harms of social media and to encourage making space for a full life and real connections. Part guidebook and part self-help, Life Beyond Likes offers both specific action steps for reducing social media use and insightful support for overcoming addictions to online validation.

Going deeper, Watson explores the concept of friendship and the sense of belonging, and how both have suffered since the Internet came to dominate human interactions. In a way, Watson’s mission is to remind readers what it is to be human – and to highlight how much humanity is lost when a person allows fake interactions and social media addiction to become a way of life.

Isa urges readers to break free of the need for social media validation by taking some practical steps. First, she says, focus on an “inner circle” of a few people – friends and allies – who know you, interact with you frequently, and provide honest, sincere validation for you. Make space to have a conversation with one or more of these people each week. Get your validation from them instead of from a crowd of strangers or semi-“friends” online.

She also emphasizes the value of self-care as a defense against the craving for online validation. You feel better about yourself when you take care of yourself, she says, so create an optimal self-care routine for yourself, tailored to your own wants and needs, and stick to it. Self-care can be as simple as cooking for yourself or practicing meditation, Isa says.

Keeping it real

It’s no wonder people are drawn to living fake lives online: Real life is often painful, disappointing, mortifying, terrifying, and lonely. And it takes devoted effort and dedication for a person to be emotionally vulnerable, set firm boundaries for themselves and others, and build solid relationships. 

But loving yourself and living a full, joyful life means doing just that. The philosophy and principles that Watson lays out would benefit anyone attempting to live life on Earth, not only those who are struggling with social media addiction.

Warm and raw, funny and heartfelt, Life Beyond Likes reminds readers what it means to be fully human, why it’s so hard – and why it’s worthwhile anyway. Even when no one is “liking” you.

About Patricia Sanders

Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She currently lives on Santa Maria island in the Azores.

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