Don’t follow me on Instagram

Right now, in the flesh, I’m wearing a lot of makeup and constantly drawing the curtains. I’m fine, it’ll pass. But you can still catch me in a highly censored way on social media, that is, when I’m not busy ducking that too.

Twitter. Argh, Twitter. It feels like my native platform, though that dubious honor belongs to blogging. I will never hate Twitter. It would be like hating the pavement of the street your formerly favorite bars are on. Formerly favorite because they went from being really chill places to this place where everyone is now just panicked and screaming at each other all the time. It’s like your neighbors moved away and sold their house to a doomsday cult. Oh, and the neighbors that did not move away? They joined the cult too. You’re cognizant that there is, ALAS, always a chance that the doomsday cult is right. It’s not the street itself, for the most part. It’s everybody on it. That’s Twitter right now. I’ll never hate it though, because some of the people there became my friends – real ones! They’ve been to my house and I’ve fed many of them!

When I moved to Buffalo, Twitter helped anchor me to the city in ways beyond just standing in my front yard waiting for my gregarious neighbors to talk to me could. Which, by the way, I do live in the City of Good Neighbors, that strategy will more or less work. At least until the population of gregarious neighbors declines because the renters become homeowners somewhere else. Then YOU have to be the gregarious neighbor. “Could you just crawl out of your ennui long enough to say hi to the kind people who live around you,” I ask myself, as I duck behind the curtains, again. There goes the neighborhood. I digress. The point is that social networks can take suggestions from stock brokers: diversify. Go meet people in different contexts.

So! Hey! Diversify! Let’s talk those other internet networks. I’m already on the amazing universal baby photo album that is known as Facebook (READ: I WANT TO SEE MORE PHOTOS OF YOUR GORGEOUS INFANTS), and that too comes with a bonus of existential political dread! Dread, just what I need on my already excessively-taxed emotional resources. So I take it in the way one takes medication with really terrible side effects: just enough and not a drop more. I’ll never fully hate Facebook. Listen: I got friends all over the world, and I get to know en mass what is going on. I can banter about grammar! A friend just had her adorable son yesterday. She lives on pretty much the direct opposite side of the world. Thanks to Facebook and the internet, I can tell you – he’s really, really cute. I can’t hold him, but those photos are better than no awareness at all.

I have an Instagram account. I think I started using it more or less when I found myself trapped under nursing or milk-drunk infants, snuggling their selves to blissful unconsciousness against my breasts and stomach. When I forget that I constantly subsisted on less than 4-5 hours of sleep, I miss those days. In any case, you’re trapped, and probably tired, but not really in a great position to sleep most of the time (because, if you were, you’d already be blissfully unconscious too), so why not mess around on the internet? As vast as the internet is, when you’re, let’s say, not working with a brain firing all its cylinders because of exhaustion… you run out of creative ways to find more. Also, you have this adorable little human and like a gazillion pictures of them. Why not mess around with them? And so that was my account. I rarely looked at other people’s photos.

I rarely used it as a social network until around the New Year. I do mostly like it. So I got friends there, and did you know that there are artists on Instagram? Did you know that pulling my phone out of my pocket is an even lower rent activity than meandering one block to the Western New York Artists Group gallery on my lunchbreak? Did you know that scrolling through my phone is 100% less likely to have one of my toddlers damage an original Burchfield than walking to the Burchfield-Penney will? (Related: shoutout to the Burchfield-Penney for having amazingly child-friendly policies. I can strap one kid into stroller and another onto a ergo carrier and show them art until I bore them to sleep. And make the docents laugh at my unconscious cargo.) What I’m trying to say is that even though I have stupid-easy access to a lot of art, the good capitalist in me always wants more and I appreciate the ability to do that. Thanks Instagram!

But you know what’s weird, to me, about Instagram? THE WHOLE PLATFORM IS LIKE AN ART GALLERY. It feels like a performance? I feel like I should be performing too? Seriously. The captions are so short, commenting is atypical, I feel like, since using it more, I am posting 75% of all non-hashtagged words on the website. Every social network has its norms, and I feel like I’m some elephant that’s charged through using it all wrong. I also don’t get the norms of meeting strangers? My inclination is… not to? I feel like more than any other platform, Instagram is the Durkheimian front stage. Listen: I know I ruined a semi-tolerable essay by bringing in dead French sociologists. It seems even more polished, presentation-wise, than any other medium. The creation thereof is hidden. The grit is usually hidden. Maybe that’s the purpose? Is it because we use our eyes? Is it the whole idea of a picture being worth a thousand words? Are you thinking you could have spared yourself this long essay with one photo? Maybe Instagram is your thing.

In more disclosure than you will usually get out of me, I have been thinking a lot about vulnerability and openness, and how much of one’s self you open to the world and for what purpose. There are reasons. I have what some friends have described as unreasonably tight boundaries. My desire for privacy has hindered my ability to write about personal experiences. In that pursuit, words are a precision tool. I can be as specific or vague as I wish. How do I show you my soul (Unitarian Universalist reflexive caveat: if there is such a thing) with a photo? My Instagram shows pictures in a lot of intimate-to-me settings: my home, my street, and the places I frequent. There are some of the people I love in them. Maybe this is a lack of skill, but there is more missing than even I meant.

My preferred expressive medium is words. I just want to string a few sentences together and dangle them in a way that hopefully gets the point across. It is also possible that I just am not a great photographer, I don’t have the eyes for color, and the sights most precious to me are mundane to everyone else. I am OK with that. I’m going to keep breaking the norms, because I am awkward and thus incredibly practiced at doing so. In all seriousness, I feel like the encroachment of “best practices” into social media contributes to why they can feel so sterile. At first I was thinking, “Eh, maybe I’m not great at this.” My next thought: maybe I should not be. Social media, as a social institution, seems to thrive on idea you are a brand, the way that you can use these tools of bulk interpersonal interaction to commodify yourself in hopes of being a commodity to even more people. I’ll be damned. It’s possible that feeling awkward in this post-modern era of social interaction is also a very normal thing for a human being to do. The world is changing so fast, all of the time. Relationships and interaction come in bulk now, of course that will be overwhelming. We want to be our best, of course we polish our presentation. This is just the public showing up in my pocket, the low-rent way to get the equivalent of going out dressed nicely. I suspect my Instagram burnout will be less fear of encroaching dystopia driving me away from other platforms and more fatigue of being in another place where I ought to look good.

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