“It doesn’t go with my feed”
“Oh my god, I love your aesthetic!”
The art of picture taking has gone from being a hobby for some, to the means of livelihood for others. In 2010, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger foresaw the likelihood of this activity garnering something more than aesthetics, and thus came Instagram. In April 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for a deal that valued the company at US$1bn, its staff count at the time- 13 people. Integration in Facebook’s ecosystem was a boost for the app, as of 2017, Instagram has 700mn users worldwide, 30mn of whom are in India.
Since then, Instagram has gone from being a mindless display of oddly edited pictures to perfectly curated feeds that could well be displayed in art galleries. While it has accelerated self-expression, it has also simultaneously been the cause of mental health problems for most adolescents. Researchers from the Royal Society for Public Health in London conducted a study titled #StatusOfMind to quantify addiction to social media. In a group of nearly 1,500 youngsters, aged14-24yrs, social media tended to be more addictive than alcohol or cigarettes. Across platforms one that tended to cause maximum depression and anxiety in adolescents was Instagram. Frighteningly enough, the study revealed that among those surveyed, problems such as “anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO- Fear Of Missing Out” were the most common.
In an article “In defence of pretentiousness”, author Dan Fox talks about how pretentiousness is good and even necessary. He claims that while calling someone pretentious might be harmful, being pretentious seldom has harmful effects. However, the study conducted above seems to be at odds with Fox’s conclusion, and it is important to understand why.
When one is so eager to publicize every single aspect of one’s life, life itself becomes bound by the prospect of public validation. The value of a moment lies in being able to absorb the learning that it imparts. Looking at the utter disregard for the present, being caught with the urge of posting everything, is what hurts the most.
- Couples spending quality time together suddenly ask their friends to take pictures. The transition from a genuine moment of affection to camera-ready images is as remarkable as devastating.
- No dance party is complete without that group that grinds for the camera.
- No meal is complete without the location, date, time, and a “cute” boomerang of you trying to eat that slice of pizza, no one really cares for how it tastes.
Being one such person felt like living being a showpiece for the world. Contrary to the popular refrain, “if there’s no picture, did it really happen?”, one could say, “it did happen, but you were too busy taking pictures”. Instagram’s idea of “stories” has perhaps furthered this miserable feeling among the youth. Perhaps as with Snapchat, most people tend to watch others’ stories and then compare their lives to them. This then begins to generate feelings of loneliness and anxiety that can only be controlled by trying to emulate them or to post frivolously about something that they’re doing and make it seem like it’s an equally “fun thing” to do. When people are inherently insecure, being on Instagram will not help.
What the social media generation today has taken upon themselves is the idea of propelling certain social media movements. The #MeToo campaign, the black dot profile picture on Facebook and many others are such instances where people take stands on the things that matter. How influential these are - only time will tell. The problem arises when the line, between what comprises a valid problem in society and what seems to be an outlandish way of living, is blurred. Oftentimes, teenagers post about the stigma associated with smoking, doing drugs, etc. This may be facilitated with posts of them doing the very same, having captions that put to shame those who tell them not to. It is absolutely appalling how this has normalized one’s stance on the issue. Five years ago, someone might have been apprehensive about uploading something like that. Today, those taking exception to it are brandished “conservative” or “orthodox”. This ought not to be viewed as the advent of a freer society, for there’s no proof indicating that. Instead, it marks the beginning of the end for reasoned accountability and standing up to the constant need to fit in.
With the growing idea of body positivity and self-love, anti-body shaming rhetoric has also taken hold. While there is some merit in not defining an individual’s worth with their body, a romanticisation of unhealthy body types is equally problematic. Not to mention the patronizing tone of these campaigns is immensely off-putting.
And this is perhaps why I quit Instagram. While these were the underlying causes, the trigger was an incident that occurred on the 3rd of October 2017. I had just finished talking to my father over the phone and sat down before my computer. Most of our conversations usually revolved around productivity and time management. As I was staring at the screen before me, I realized that most of my time was spent on Instagram. Even when not using it, the app became a central aspect of my thoughts. I realized that I was spending a lot of time planning my feed, because a feed devoid of a theme was just an eyesore. Scrolling through my camera roll to see what was best then spending an inordinate amount of time editing the image had become a daily ritual. In the midst of this cacophony, I ended up asking myself, “To What End am I doing this?”
Not having received an answer, I logged onto the web and proceeded to delete my account. It was truly liberating. Enjoying life without having to worry about captions, or stories or hashtags, has its own ring to it.
When a 15 year old decides to have two accounts- one for the general public and one for their private friends- it reflects the skewed understanding of social relations that is being perpetuated.
Instagram was not designed with the purpose of promoting pretentiousness. Like every form of social media, it has been designed to allow people to stay in touch and build bonds with like-minded people. What we see now is a place where people put up their best possible faces for the world to see. #Nofilter has become nothing more than an oxymoron. The only way to truly utilize the potential of social media is to share the work that one has taken the time to develop, keep in touch with friends, realize that the ultimate aim is achievement of tangible goals. A virtual presence is an enabler, not an end in itself.
About The Author
Kamya Vishwanath is extremely passionate about her political opinions and reads extensively about the subject. A strong advocate of mental health and combating stigma around the same, she has interned with the Spastics Society of Karnataka and the Center for Law and Policy Research and continues to write passionately about mental illness.