Stop Impressing; Start Confessing
A typical scene: I’m sitting in a restaurant with one of my first college friends. We haven’t seen each other all semester, and we’re finally catching up on the stories we’ve missed. We’re wrapped up in conversation when our food comes out. And that’s when it happens: our hands instantly reach for our phones. There’s an unspoken agreement that our conversation has paused as we spend several minutes editing, cropping, choosing a filter, and inserting a witty caption. We quickly resume catching up, and the rest of the brunch unfolds without interruption, and yet we both feel the desire to glance at our screens to see just how many likes we each got. It’s been months since, but it’s scary to think back to that moment and realize it was just a thoughtless part of our daily routine.
Flash forward to this past weekend, when I’m at a lake house in the Poconos with my family. I paddle out to the middle of the lake for some peace and quiet, but within five minutes I start to feel anxious. I feel around to see if my phone is in my pocket, and realize in a panic that I left it on land, so I cannot capture the serene moment I’m experiencing. I end up taking a picture later and try to post to social media. It dawns on me that I have no Internet, no cell service, and no way of sharing my moment with the rest of the world.
And that’s when it finally hits me: Instagram is nothing short of a feed of perfected images representing false validations of life experiences. Everything looks better through a filter, right? As Alex Williams brilliantly puts it in his NYT article, “Thanks to the built-in filters, many of which imbue the photos with a kind of digital nostalgia by mimicking the look of old lenses and film stock, everyone looks a little younger, a bit prettier, more cover-worthy.” The pictures I see when scrolling through my feed are reminders that at that moment, my life is not as glamorous or as hip as the next person’s. How many daily pictures do you see of a cup of coffee, a sunset, a cute outfit, a beach, or a restaurant meal, all perfectly edited to look aesthetically pleasing and tailored to catch someone’s eye enough to stop scrolling and touch a button that will immediately give you a rush of validation?
I know I’m not the first person to adopt this opinion, but I still think it’s important to stress this as social media creeps into our lives more with every passing year. It is true that most of the time we spend on social media, we are alone and bored, for this is when it is easiest to stalk other people’s lives. But it is becoming more and more socially acceptable to do the same thing while at a party, in class, in the dining hall, or worst, when you’re one on one with a friend. I am just as guilty of this as the next person. I’m not proud of how many times a day I whip out my phone and scroll through my Instagram feed, and thankfully some of my friends are great enough to call me out on it.
The basic problem with Instagram is that it triggers a dangerous process of comparison that leads to envy and self doubt. I find myself constantly comparing my life to the lives of others, wishing that I had that view of the Hudson from my window, that perfectly toned bikini body, that group of smiling friends at that party. My life is far from mediocre, but it’s only when I see other people’s perfect, edited lives that I start doubting my experiences and feel the need to impress others. It’s when I don’t get above 10 likes and I wonder what I did wrong, or when I get upset that I was taking a picture instead of being in it, or spend too much time making sure my snapchat is “candid” - those are the moments that are just making me feel worse about myself. And who needs that?
In the words of Williams, “The result [of Instagram] is an online culture where the ethic is impress, rather than confess.” And so I confess. I confess that I have spent at least 15 minutes airbrushing each picture before uploading it, that I have spent nights in bed stalking other people’s lives rather than doing something more worthwhile such as sleeping, reading, or studying, that I worry every day about my image, and that I have missed some life experiences because I was too busy documenting them for social media.
Of course there are always people who post things and haven’t a care in the world for how those things are received. I admire you, because I for one have realized that the only way I can stop caring is to remove myself from certain social media.
So farewell, Instagram. Goodbye to Snapchat, and Pinterest, and so many others. This may even be my last blog post. I’m no longer attempting to validate my life experiences to others.
I’m ready to stop impressing. Are you?
what if our use of emojis gradually becomes so extensive that we actually circle back to writing in hieroglyphics
a muggleborn student gets called a mudblood, so they lick their hand and wipe it on the pureblood’s face, singing “got mud on your face, you big disgrace, somebody better put you back into your place”