Instagram and Inadequacy

This is a totally serious question: do people actually feel inadequate when looking at Instagram pictures? Or is this some kind of manufactured perceived injustice that everyone knows isn’t true? I ask because I had never really thought of putting things on social media as bragging. I thought of it more as saying, “Look at this!” Like forcing a slightly larger group of people to endure the march-of-pointing that is going anywhere with me.1 But then, everyone I follow on Instagram is also just saying, “Look at this!” and “this” is usually a book, a dog, an interesting cement texture, a painting, a squished bug…they’re not really things that you can brag about, exactly. I suppose you could argue that everyone I follow is bragging about their access and their time, and that I necessarily am as well, as it’s an incredible privilege to have the time to go to museums and read books and travel. But I just don’t feel like the point of the thing is to make other people jealous.

As a creator (and we are all creators online), I try to make my peace with social media by viewing it as a kind of “zine-like” act of unmediated creativity. I try to view it as drawing attention to things I think are important, funny, or creatively poignant.2 I realize there may come a day when the camera turns around, and I’m actually in the pictures I’m putting online, and then I will have to work really hard to come up with a justification my brain can accept for this. Like, I’ll have to view myself as a guide to all the wonder in the world, because I just don’t get the selfie culture. But, as far as pointing is concerned, I’m not sure if I’m willing to admit that directing the attention of others to something you genuinely enjoy and are excited for is necessarily a form of bragging. In the very least, I can’t see how that’s true because when I see pictures of things I will certainly never own or roles I will never inhabit3 my first instinct is not jealousy. It’s interest.

But I worry about this a lot. I worry for one thing that I’m contributing to someone else’s unhealthy inability to understand the amount of framing that goes into my own social media. Especially teenagers. I mean, I do dishes. I do laundry. I spend hours staring into the abyss that is Quickbooks. I don’t put that on Instagram. But it’s there, just out of the frame.

But I also worry about the Internet’s ability to create situations in which this framing is even possible. I guess since most kids nowadays grew up with this as a form of communication, it’s not as dire as it seems from my perspective, but…like…there’s just something unsettling both about the desire to frame something (slash the talent to pull it off) and the inability to see the frame. Or, maybe even to see the frame but not really internalize the frame. You can know the frame is there and still imagine another person’s life is perfect.

I’m writing a lot about Instagram in my current book, which I am rushing to finish at least a draft of before I have to go back and edit YA Book 2 that will need so much TLC. I’m happy to have the opportunity to think about this, because it’s bothered me for a while, but it leaves me feeling very much like there’s not much I can actually do, you know? It’s not that I feel the internet is inherently evil, I think what it comes down to is that I don’t trust our current school system’s ability to teach media literacy fast enough to catch up to the social world our teens live in.

In summary, I should have been a librarian!!!

  1. Especially if there are dogs on the street or things in glass cases.
  2. I’m being pretty generous here. A lot of the things I draw attention to are…my cat.
  3. Every image from behind the scenes of a movie, for example. My career as a set designer is never to be.