I was at a party the other weekend, sitting around a fire pit when everyone started discussing Instagram. One of the girls was showing her friends Instagram accounts of two different boys she liked and everyone was weighing in with their harsh pre- concieved judgments. “This guy’s Instagram is annoying. He is so good looking but what is this black and white picture of a stop sign?” someone commented, and then after raising his eyebrows as if he had just found the evidence he needed to conclude this person’s worth on planet earth he added, “and it got no likes.” A chill went down my spine. “This guy is cute, and less annoying than the other one even though he is Instagramming expensive cars and shit, it annoys me less than the other guys…” someone else said trailing off lost in thought over how this could be. They both turned to me. “What’s your Instagram name?” I paused and probably resembled a dog pausing, sensing a natural disater is about to strike. “Aloha Big Jenny,” I said casually and kind of bored, like I was just spelling my last name to a bill collector over the phone. In my head I was trying to remember my pictures, and how annoying/dumb my account made me appear. “Big Jenny?” they said looking at me. I narrowed my eyes, “Big. Jenny,” I repeated. Big Jenny DGAFOS sprawled across my face.
Instagram is fun at first because you can be Big Jenny and post over saturated pictures of the ocean and feel artsy, but then you have to ask yourself… but why? One day you will be sitting around a fire pit at a party with new people and instead of talking to you to get to know you, they will want to sit next to you and scroll through your Instagram account silently judging you off your social media presence and your lack of likes. She only Instagram’s pictures of mountains, what is she doing all the time up there in the mountains? Is she a witch? It’s true, you can kind of tell what people value off looking at what they Instagram the most. My cousin only Instagrams cute pictures of her kids and husband doing things like building forts in the backyard, she only cares about her family. There was a time I was tempted to unfollow everyone except for her. There is a large following of people who complain about people’s wedding and baby pictures on Instagram and Facebook that I do not understand, like how I don’t understand Trump supporters or why people hate comfortable foam footwear like Crocs. You got engaged? Oh are you going to Instagram your divorce too? I don’t want to see your baby. Get that newborn off my feed. People would rather see pictures of fancy mojitos than other people falling in love and starting families. I had a friend who only Instagramed the alcoholic beverages she drank, and that was always nice to have scattered in throughout your newsfeed- she’s drinking again, oh good at least it’s not another picture of a newborn life two people made.
Some people have artsy Instagrams- pictures of marbles on the sidewalk in sepia, things like that. I don’t know what to think about those Instagrams except that they are my Insta inspiration- the ones who originally understood and appreciated a pretty picture of the many different facets of life, before everyone else gained access to a camera and photoshop on their cell phone. Some people have very fashion forward Instagram accounts. A girl wearing an Urban Outfitter jumpsuit with her hair in a bun standing in front of a brick wall and flipping the camera off. Or girls holding hands and wearing native american prints in a field while the sun is setting. Or a girl in a bikini posing on the beach with the caption “courage is grace under pressure.” It makes me wonder why I am shuffling around town in black tights and a man’s T-shirt, never finding myself stylishly dressed by a brick wall. How do they do it? How do they own a tiger print pantsuit and find themselves draped over a gold chair on a balcony overlooking downtown LA? How? Now everyone can be a supermodel and thank God because the world needs more pretty people posing more than any other type of person. On my account I have a black and white picture of me lying on the beach in Hawaii in a one piece. At the time I thought, everyone else does it, I’ll post this because one day I’ll most likely completely give up and let myself go and I need proof that there was a time I roamed around gutless. After I posted it I realized all that did was make me feel like I lie around on beaches obsessed with myself, and somewhere a child is malnourished. How do people post free of guilt? I wondered, looking at an Insta of a girl posing in a thong bathing suit with the caption “pause.” She’s just celebrating her toned butt without a care in the world, and everyone wants to celebrate with her, I want to celebrate my butt, I want others to celebrate with me. Why do I want to celebrate my butt? Do others think about their butt as much as I am now? Does my butt look like hers? I think I may look like Rosie O’Donnell in a bikini next to her. And then as they often do, the trail of thoughts always ends with, and somewhere a child is malnourished, how can I starve myself for a smaller bikini butt on Insta, who am I? And then of course the Instagram’s that are the most self absorbed, the selfies. Instagram accounts full of pictures of a person’s face- them in their car posing, them lying in their bed, them standing in line at Starbucks, them in the bathrooms of restaurants- I guess these people are letting everyone know what they care most about is..their face.
Just like my black and white bathing suit picture, I decided to join the orchestra and posted a selfie to my Instagram account. After seven different filters I had blurred out all human imperfection and I kind of looked good, like a plastic doll. I’m SO pretty with filters. I posted it and almost immediately the likes started coming in- omg I AM pretty! I usually post pictures of open fields with the hashtag “nature” and I have very few followers and even less likes on all my pictures, but my face generated the most likes I’d ever gotten. People want to see my face? I thought as someone left a comment- #prettyhurts. I looked at my photoshopped face in horror. The last person to like my selfie before I deleted it out of disgust with myself, was my mother. The next day she sent me a text:
Why did you delete the picture of yourself? Was it because I liked it, are you embarrassed your mother has an Insta?
I sent her a text back:
Because I looked like an…asshole.
To which she responded:
Jennifer, language. But you weren’t showing any cleavage. It was tasteful.
If I had clevage to show, I’d show it.
To me, this conversation with a person of the old timey world sums up selfies. I don’t know how my mother grew up without pointing an iPhone in her face and snapping away, or lying on a beach without someone capturing a nice shot of her butt, she must feel like she really missed out. She will never know how many likes her face may have gotten by random people all over the Interweb. And because of this, she must just be a sad shell of insecurity. I have to wonder when my Instagramming will stop. Will I be Instagramming as a grammie in a retirement home? Will I ever tire of the hefe filter? When you go somewhere, a concert lets say, everyone has their phones out documenting the whole thing in such a way that suggests if they didn’t have a video no one would believe that they went to the concert. But it’s just as easy to make people think you are doing cool things when you aren’t. I could google a vague picture of Coachella, upload it and hashtag it and people could think I went. My friend, to prove a point, uploaded a picture of himself, thanking everyone for the best thirty-first birthday and as everyone started writing “happy birthday!” and liking his post, I had to wonder why no one knew his birthday is in August and he is years away from turning thirty. Aren’t your followers your friends? Don’t they know you? What the hell is the world today.
A while ago at a lunch with my co-workers, one of them was talking about developing a dating app. “How many times have you been at a bar and there’s a pretty girl you see but you don’t know how to talk to her? With this app you could check into the bar, and see profiles of other people there with the option to ‘like’ them. Then you would know you both ‘liked’ each other and you could talk to her,” he explained. Everyone was quiet and one of my bosses asked me, “Well, lets ask the one girl at the table, what do you think Jennifer?” The whole idea had exhausted me and the older I get the less of a filter I possess, I’m going to be a nightmare of an old woman. “I think if a man can’t approach me in person when I am standing a few feet away from him…that’s just…weaksauce. I don’t want to be with a man like that, that’s not a man, that’s an undeveloped baby brain, that’s a person I just don’t want to know. I’d rather die alone.” Everyone went silent. “Well,” my co-worker said and then just shook his head, everyone shifting around in their seats uncomfortably.
A few months later an app was released called “Minglr,” and it was exactly the idea my co-worker had had. Now when you are in a bar you can connect with others around you by logging into Minglr and browsing profiles of people standing right in front of your face. “I’m dying alone!” I complained to my friend as I switched back and forth between the sierra and mayfair filters to enhance the sunset picture I was uploading to Instagram. “Now people will see me out and be horrified that my face doesn’t look like my Minglr profile face, because that face has been through seven filters. And they will just move onto the next profile of some attractive girl. All I need is this phone, it is not just an extension of my hand, it is an extension of my lost humanness, my demise into a robotic soulless selfie of a life.” My friend looked like he was about to cry. “Stop, stop please, you are so depressing.”
It is depressing, a real drag, but I can’t help but think about social media and the effect it has on people’s sense of self, their pride, their ego, their values. I feel happiest when surrounded by people so old they want to “take selfies of their cat.” Those are the people who have stayed able to be present in the moment. The rest of us, especially the younger ones find it hard to disengage from our phones and look around what is right in front of us- because usually what is right in front of us, is other people, or a tree, not your own face or a profile of someone else. People have character traits and voices that can’t be captured in a photo or a blog post or a Facebook profile. Two people could have chemistry sitting across from one another at a dinner table, but never get there because they are writing each other off because of a blog or an Instagram account or Facebook profile, online profiles act as a filter too. People could be losing the art of conversation, knowing how to interact with living breathing people, how to express yourself without the aid of an emoji.
Having a million followers doesn’t mean you are more valued as a human being- but we are starting to think it does. We are starting to think that is caring and worth. Magazines are beginning to list celebrities number of twitter and Instagram followers. We are comparing ourselves to others with numbers. But is following someone a connection? If you want to know what’s up in someone’s life, looking at their social media isn’t catching you up. You don’t know how they are feeling or what they are thinking presently. You just know what they are posting, you are essentially just stalking them with their permission. And is that how we want to care about one another? The internet and social media can be a gift and a curse, and you have to choose how you use it and how you choose to live, view and share your life with others. It’s easy to get sucked into it, and watch real life disintegrate around your online life- with your online friends and followers, but it doesn’t have to isolate you. You can always isolate your phone and rejoin real life, which is quite beautiful and interesting sans any filter or number of likes.