I was 15 when I posted my first Instagram photo. It was a no-frills artsy square of a painting I did of a fancy hand mirror with the caption “Mirror, mirror” (so original, I know). The posting process took all but five minutes and minimal effort — all I did was place the mirror beside the painting and take a snap of the two side-by-side, after all. Needless to say, it got zero likes.
Back then, the lack of likes didn’t matter to me. My existence on the new social media platform was strictly for documentation and occasional fangirling. I’d already joined the bandwagon of Facebook and Twitter by announcing my day-to-day activities (I cringe at one of my first tweets: “How do you use twitter? :D”) so I started out using Instagram in the same way.
Nowadays, my posting process involves spending almost half an hour trying to figure out the right caption (witty, but not too much) and VSCO filter (usually toned down so the photo looks natural), and holding my breath before tapping the checkmark (√) on the upper right of my screen. Then I ignore my phone for a while before obsessively checking it every five minutes, with me partly expecting likes to come reeling in one by one.
You can say that I’m obsessed — there have been instances where I’ve spent entire evenings just looking at my Instagram and Twitter feeds, wondering why I can’t be as witty as @wolfpupy (yes, just two Ps!) or as artistically inclined as @everyone on Instagram ever. I’d go the extra mile (and possibly further) just to master the “right” vibe and aesthetic for my feeds. But for what exactly?
All the effort that goes into posting has sparked many an online debate as to why we spend so much time art directing our online identities in the first place. Because, honestly, do we gain anything from participating in this virtual contest to perfect the aesthetic?
So when Instagram-famous model Essena O’Neill contributed to the conversation by announcing her exit from social media a few weeks ago, many people shared her sentiments. In her viral video, Essena talked about how “social media is an illusion,” and how what she was posting on her Instagram (where she had over 612,000 followers) was inauthentic.
She revealed how many of her posts were sponsored and manipulated to look like her life was #goals. Apart from this, Essena also mentioned that despite her being at the “pinnacle of success,” she still felt as if all the likes and followers weren’t enough.
The point that Essena made is important, but it also dismisses the fact that different people have different uses for social media. After all, Instagram, like other social media sites, is just one of many tools for sharing what we want to share. And because it is a tool, it’s up to us to use it in ways that suit us and that make us happy.
At the same time, the landscape of Instagram has evolved so that aside from being consumers, we’re all our own content makers. And like legit media outlets, it’s great that people are adapting by making an effort to post inspiring photos with equally inspiring captions — whether they be of lettering, photography or collages.
We also have to remember that the app is there so that we can document our experiences, and not the other way around. Don’t attend a party or climb a mountain just because you think it’ll look good on your feed. Do it because you sincerely think it’ll be fun and because you think it’ll be fun to look back on it.
Choosing to pose for a photo doesn’t always make a moment less genuine. The least it does is serve as proof that the moment really happened. Hazel Cills said it best in a piece for Rookiemag.com, saying that “What gets lost in the discussion of social media is that often sharing photos online is not about sharing an image that attempts realism. It’s about making a specific image in the now, no matter how ‘fake’ or ‘real.’”
Just recently, I made the decision to stop obsessing over my Instagram feed. I’m trying to make it reflect my real life as much as possible — occasional flatlay and dog-in-a-cute-pose-snap still included, but minus the fussy editing (sorry, VSCO).
It’s not bad to document what’s going on, but it’s also important to stop, to experience life, and to live in the moment, and actually be part of what’s going on.