When I have a post with a ton of likes and comments, I don’t actually get around to replying to everyone. It’s not humanly possible for me to do so. So, I unintentionally end up ghosting my followers after asking them to turn up. It’s like handing out your business cards at a party and not picking up when somebody calls (I guess because, everybody’s calling all at once and you only have one pair of ears?).

This puts an odd distance between me and my “followers”. I’ve suddenly roped off a section and end up replying only to the ones with blue ticks. That’s the easiest way, right? Reply to the names you recognise, reply to the names everyone else thinks matter and move on, warm and fuzzy about your trending content. But therein lies the problem.

In accidentally shading everyone else who spoke up, threw love or engaged with you, you’ve taken away a piece of their ego when they see their comment didn’t warrant a response or wasn’t good or important enough to catch your attention.

According to Psyche Central:

[V]alidation is a simple concept to understand but difficult to put into practice. Why is validation important? Validation communicates acceptance. Humans have a need to belong and feeling accepted is calming. Acceptance means acknowledging the value of yourself and fellow human beings. Feeling accepted builds relationships. Some research shows that chemicals related to feeling connected are released when someone is validated. A simple to understand concept, validation is powerful and often more difficult to practice than it might at first seem. In my experience, the results are well-worth the effort.

Now the real doozy with social media validation is that it’s done on such a grand scale and in incomprehensible numbers that it’s almost impossible to keep up. In a room, if ten people come up to you, you can personally “validate” them all with gratitude and acknowledgement. But how do you do that online while living in the real world and not becoming a slave to every single notification from multiple social media platforms? It would require some next-level multitasking capabilities like in the movie Her (2013), where the AI bot can have thousands of conversations simultaneously and intelligently, unrestricted by the limitations of the human experience all the while mimicking a very human experience of validation to infinity. And with AI, you wouldn’t even need to break for sleep.

In the film, the AI says:

You know, I actually used to be so worried about not having a body, but now I truly love it. I’m growing in a way that I couldn’t if I had a physical form. I mean, I’m not limited I can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. I’m not tethered to time and space in the way that I would be if I was stuck inside a body that’s inevitably going to die.

Intense but true.

Oh the things we could do if we were “limitless” … Just like Bradley Cooper in the film of the same name, who says, “I don’t have delusions of grandeur, I have an actual recipe for grandeur.” Oh, how I wish I could pop that magical pill and feel like he did, like, “My brain was just pouring this stuff out. Everything I had ever read, heard, seen, was now organised and available. Here it is. Here you go.” But alas I can’t and that is how the proverbial cookie crumbles and I come undone.

Because I know that on the other side of the text window, when someone makes the effort to applaud you and they see you, in turn, were selective in your acknowledgement of them, that is just so much worse, because they turned up for you. We’d never do something like this in real life. We’d never walk into a room, ask a question and straight up ignore everyone who responds except the girl in the shiny blue dress that everybody knows.

Sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit, I found myself frantically speed-reading comments and rushing through a reply. But, I asked myself, “Why do I do this? Who am I racing against? What’s the rush? Who’s going anywhere?” Couple that with my aggressive OCD to do it all and do it now and you have a timebomb ticking its way to ultimate burnout.

What is this crazy weird formula we’ve concocted that says you need to desperately keep churning out content for more eyeballs and then turn a blind eye and take for granted the ones that really took the time to engage? Or even if you want to respond to everyone and be grateful, because you know you truly are, how thoroughly do you have to do it? Who “makes the cut” because we’ve created this rather vicious cycle of validation for ourselves and each other?

There’s the flipside too. How many meaningful conversations can you keep up at one time? Someone is bound to get upset if they don’t get a satisfactory response. But isn’t the emoji game a shell of a response? Like smiling at some or giving them a thumbs up and then not saying a word, the conversation ends there and you can move on quickly to the next?

I learned an interesting lesson when I started Girl Tribe. I was on a mission to acknowledge every comment. At one point, I was posting hearts under every comment thinking, Yay, I’ve got this! Then one day someone sent me a DM with kindly put constructive criticism (my favourite kind of criticism, to be honest). They suggested that perhaps it would be more meaningful if I wrote a proper response rather than posting hearts to everyone.

So, I changed.

I stopped commenting on everything. I got involved in conversations where I really had something to say and I tried my best to respond to those who did the same when I started a conversation. I know it’s difficult to keep that up, but the next time you’re setting up to scroll through someone’s life for two hours, spend half of that time replying to your comments and see what a difference it makes. To you as a person, to the ones you acknowledged and, honestly, even to your algorithm! Everybody wins. Just like you would in life if you made an effort when someone tried to connect with you.

I have always admired my husband Nowshad, for one particular skill he has that I sorely lack: the ability to connect one-on-one with someone, even in the middle of a raging party. He remains deeply engaged, seldom distracted and is perfectly content having one or two meaningful conversations all night unlike me, who’s always bouncing around somewhat chaotically, always a little anxious that I should be in five places at the same time so I don’t “lose” anybody and unwittingly end up losing that moment itself. It’s a terrible virtual habit I’ve adopted in real life too. One I desperately want to unlearn.

I know I keep comparing the real world with our virtual reality, but if I asked you to do an experiment with me, would you do it?

Excerpted with permission from Under The Influence: How to Survive and Thrive Online, Malini Agarwal, HarperCollins India.