Instagram Is A Tiny Speck In The Ginormous Oil Painting of Life
One topic I think about obsessively: Instagram. More specifically, the psychological effect it has on me.
A while ago I posted a tweet saying I felt conflicted about social media, and the responses I got were surprising. People said that Facebook gave them anxiety, only going on certain sites when their mood was stable, whilst others deleted and re-activated their accounts regularly.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with these platforms but they have so many pros that it makes them hard to quit. They connect me to like-minded people, are informative, make me laugh and give me an instant connection to my fanbase. It’s amazing to feel a level of relation in real time. However, in the last year I’ve noticed that every time I go on Instagram I feel kind of flat + zapped afterwards, like somebody has literally sat on my brain for 5 minutes. It’s oddly deflating.
Social media apps are designed to make us addicted to them. Human behaviour is reward based and each time we get a “like” or a message, our brains release a hit of dopamine, which makes us feel rrrreeeeal good (until the dopamine level drops and we feel real bad). Instagram is basically digital meth. So, for the past year I’ve been deleting the app off my phone for large periods of time, then re-downloading it if I want to post something. Interestingly, the feeling I get upon returning is always the same: I’ve missed nothing!
I understand social media’s appeal most when in relation to constructing a fantasy world. I’ve used it as a creative tool on every album I’ve made. Tumblr was key to “Electra Heart” and Twitter was key to “FROOT”. But what at first seemed like an opportunity to communicate our thoughts in an uncensored way has become a vehicle for us to present ourselves in the way that we would like to be seen by others. And this is what makes me feel weird about posting sometimes. A review I read of the film ’Ingrid Goes West’ nailed this feeling: “We use these platforms to lie and intentionally curate our lives”. The curating part hits a chord with me. It makes me feel icky, because I’ve surely, if subconsciously, done this - the majority of us have if we’re using the platform. How do I get around that and use it in a healthier way? Do I just delete the whole thing or do I need to be aware of the reason I want to post something? i.e. Is it to share an image I love, or is to make people think of me in a certain way? The latter creeps me out. It scares me.Illustration by Allegra Lockstadt
Recently, a friend said he had been going through a difficult period, so he hadn’t gone on Instagram for about a month. “Why would I? Everyone is having such a great time”. Ohhh, the digital illusion of happiness. OK, some people are genuinely having a great time, and they want to share that great time with you, but they’re not having a good time all the time. And that’s the key to remember when we’re embarking on a scrolling spree into the darkest depths of existential hell at 2am. Social media is a tiny speck in the ginormous oil painting of human life. We all have problems. We present the good parts of ourselves because it’s anathema to document the true nature of our lives, which inevitably consist of moments of disappointment, loneliness and embarrassment. None of these things look pretty or cool (no, not EVEN if you put the Mayfair filter on top of them), and I can totally see how it all started out innocently. We all love sharing special moments, but because these moments hold social currency online, we’re now doing only that. It’s easy to see how people can feel disappointed when their own lives don’t measure up in a similar way.
Illustration by Lan Truong
We’re still in the infancy of the internet, trying to navigate technology in a way that is beneficial to our lives, but I sense a shift towards a desire to portray our lives more realistically. I notice more people sharing an experience or story in the caption of a selfie/ photograph that provides more of a picture of their life than the actual photo ever could. But I still wonder how we can evolve online culture into a space that is less image-focused/ self-driven, because I worry about the psychological effects that an image-focused culture might have on a young person’s self-esteem. 20 years ago, posting a stream of pictures of only my face would have been considered borderline narcissistic, but now it’s normal. And I’m not judging this - I’m talking from the perspective of someone who has done this a’plenty and who has been a part of that culture, particularly at the height of an album campaign. Maybe all Instagram has done is magnify what seems to have always been true, that humans value beauty to excess.
Ok, I’ll end this post by saying this: If I never go on Instagram again, my life won’t lack anything because of it. Assuming I use it 20 minutes a day, I’ll get back 122 hours a year - for free! The reality is, I’ll probably continue to use it, but it’s important to me to see these platform for what they are, not what they appear to be. They’re addictive, comparative, take my time and give little back in return.
I’ll leave you with my fave comment which came from @FKASimon.
Quite, Simon, Quite.
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