Recently I keep finding myself being too scared to post pictures I actually like on Instagram. I find it hard to post a picture without messaging at least one of my friends saying, ‘is this post-able??’ My insta-phobia comes from the ever-growing realisation that Instagram is an incredibly public platform.
In the field of literature, people talk about an essay by Roland Barthes called ‘The Death of The Author.’ This theorises the idea that once a text is published it takes on a life of its own, open to countless interpretations that are out of the author’s control. But what about the death of the poster? I am not suggesting that this idea occurs to the same extent as it does with literature, because social media posts are fundamentally linked to the person who posted it. Instead, what I mean by this, is that when we post a picture, we lose our control over it. In a sense, the post does take on a life of its own, free to be spoken about, sent to others or saved.
We live in an age where holiday albums are stored on Facebook rather than in the loft. The knowledge that all of our pictures are free to be seen by whoever, whenever, is incredibly daunting when you take a minute to think about it.
This is especially true in the professional sphere with some companies combing through the social media of prospective candidates in the hiring process. Collapsing the virtual barrier between our social media personas and our professional selves, this effectively attaches our Zante 2k16 pics to our CV’s. In an attempt to avoid this nauseating idea, the number of people with “finsta” accounts (accounts privy exclusively to people’s closest friends) seems to be on the increase.
The need for these types of accounts additionally demonstrates how we strive to make our Instagram accounts a rose-tinted lens through which we view everyone’s life, and through which we desperately try to distort our own. Our public profiles send us on an unachievable quest to put on a show of leading the perfect life. This pressure to achieve the perfect post blurs the line of why people do things.
Why people pay money to sit in picture-perfect seats, go to concerts and spend the whole time looking at a phone recording the stage. Are people doing things because they genuinely want to do them, or because they want to be photographed doing them?
Instagram’s existence as an app where everyone only shows their best bits, leads us to enviously scroll through our timelines, jealous of lives that don’t, in actuality, exist. It is no wonder then that a poll documented by BBC News found Instagram to be the worst social media outlet for mental health.
Essentially, we carry everyone’s pictures in our pockets.
We make it possible for everyone to have our whole lives at their fingertips, trading posts for points on the social ladder, being a part of a world that seems more focused on what is happening on a screen than in real life. It is often said that ‘sharing is caring’, but isn’t it always the best times that go un-photographed? Times when you are enjoying yourself too much to care about stopping to take a picture show us that not everything must be shared. The desire to post details of our lives also begs the question, who really cares?
An Instagram user adopts the dual role of the viewer and the viewable. Though Instagram is privy to information on our habits, activities and likes, it keeps its cards close to its chest, with their algorithms remaining secret. This leaves users wondering why it is that username that has been named as liking our picture, or why that person is the top viewer to our Instagram story- why is his name showing, why is her name at the top of my story views. But most importantly, why should we care? Instagram tailors itself to you, noting whose stories you swipe past and whose you watch multiple times, shuffling the order in which stories and posts are presented to you accordingly. Stories have become like a local newspaper, tailored personally to each of us, one that I am personally more loyal to than any broadsheet. We are desperate to know who has been stalking our account while needing to keep our stalker status a secret from those profiles we look at most. It is only natural to want to know who has been viewing our pictures, what seems unnatural is that anyone can see them anonymously, at any time and place they wish.
I realise that throughout this article I have been saying ‘you’ and ‘we’, and though this is admittedly generalising, Instagram currently has 1 billion active monthly users, meaning that even if you are not guilty of this behaviour, a lot of people are. They say that the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night are the things that are most important to you.
But with the majority of people my age checking Instagram first thing in the morning and last thing at night, it seems that social media is at the forefront of our minds just as much as it is in front of our eyes.