Here is my latest confession: I’ve turned into an Instagram junkie. No shame – it’s slowly become my creative outlet in 2016 in the absence of writing. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to keep this blog alive (at least not right now, in this new phase of my life that’s focused on staying active and getting myself out of the house as much as possible) but I still feel an unyielding desire for artistic expression and creativity that needs to be addressed… And Instagram somehow satisfies that need in a simple and beautiful way. Is that lame? I don’t really care.
There’s something strange and fascinating about my addiction to this tool that I see as a medium for art, because it is simultaneously a vehicle for human interaction and individualized narcissism. (Not to mention that it’s owned by Facebook, an entity that I begrudgingly embrace only because you basically can’t exist in modern times without being on the book.) Art, social, and ego. In my world on Instagram these three very different concepts exist and play together in an interesting way, highlighting and sometimes undercutting each other.
At the most basic level Instagram is a social tool, giving us yet another way to interact with our friends by letting them know what we are up to in a single frame. We will often take this a step further, bringing them in on the action by tagging them when they are in the photos. The act of tagging someone in a picture on Instagram is a modern expression of love to a certain degree – to tag or mention someone in a comment is a deliberate connection with that person in our online world. And in this tech-pervasive society, our online connections are fundamental if not an extension of our offline human relationships – hasn’t it become the status quo to maintain a relationship both online and offline? What’s even more interesting to me is Instagram’s capacity for human interaction beyond our existing connections – by applying a hashtag that is used by thousands (or millions), we can gather likes or new followers and this human interaction with strangers is fulfilling in a very different way.
At a deeper level, Instagram is a tool that feeds our narcissistic egos by allowing us to show ourselves off in a very calculated way. I still believe that everyone filters themselves online by choosing to show a specific narrative about their lives that they want others to see, and this is perfectly epitomized in the act of sharing a photo of oneself with the public. I would never willingly post a picture of myself that I do not absolutely love and while I certainly do not post that many pictures of myself on Instagram, I completely understand why people do. The one time I indulged my narcissistic side and posted a photo of my solitary self grinning at the camera, the overwhelming positive feedback in likes and comments was incredibly rewarding. It gave me a little boost that was totally unexpected, so I agree with and encourage the narcissism (in moderation) because it is healthy to feel good about ourselves and engage in self-love. And sometimes it can be difficult to do this alone, so using this tool to receive positive encouragement and reinforcement can be a good start.
The simple act of tapping that little heart can potentially brighten someone’s day and have a huge impact. This is a beautiful illustration of social and ego playing together on Instagram and it’s one of the reasons that I have come to adore this little application. It is truly a vehicle for beauty, human interaction, and self-love… And as a student of Communications who exited school just as social media was ramping up, it is endlessly thought-provoking and entertaining to look at Instagram from these different angles and through different filters (pun absolutely intended).
The role of the hashtag feels fairly significant in all of this. This is something I learned quickly in my adventures on WordPress – adding tags to a blog post has a direct correlation to the number of people who actually read the post – and the same logic applies on Instagram. Where that element of human interaction is concerned, the hashtag is inarguably a means to an end if your goal is to connect with strangers in this online world. Of course, there are opposing views on the matter, or at least I get the sense that people tend to have varied (and very strong) opinions about the hashtag. Personally, I have mixed emotions.
On one hand, the hashtag is a great way to expose yourself and get your photos in front of a wider audience because a “real” hashtag will invariably get you more likes (which I suppose is sort of the point in view of that element of human interaction and connecting with others). On the other hand, it feels like a contrived attempt at getting the most likes and comments possible to feed the ego, and on top of that it seems completely silly and strange that our entire society now communicates with these little clips of text. I’m even guilty of taking the hashtag offline into verbal communication or text messages… Why? What is it about a hashtag that says something more than the simple words themselves? Is there something more concise or definitive about putting that symbol in front of a word (or many words)? #whydoesthisfeelmoremeaningful than just writing the words themselves?
Ah, the hashtag… An enigma and polarizing entity that I still haven’t wrapped my head around. As a result, I often find myself presenting a mix of both “real” hashtags along with silly and over-the-top “unreal” hashtags that are so unbearably long that nobody could actually make them into something reusable that people would follow. Which is sort of the point, to laugh at the medium of the hashtag and ironically participate while also accepting that this is the norm and way to get that exposure and feeling of community that comes with sharing a photo with strangers. Social and ego, playing together again. My profile is public for a reason – like others, at least I suspect, I am trying to build an online persona that is a mix of a filtered and somewhat unreal version myself while being an equally genuine representation of who I am, what is important to me, and what I find to be beautiful in the world.
This online persona is a projection of who I really want to be. She is happy-go-lucky, open, friendly, artistic, and maybe she does something other than a corporate day job. She is mysterious and creative and has a good eye for framing shots, and just like everyone else online, she knows how to apply a good filter. Her profile is public because she is unafraid of sharing who she is and she wants to embrace the world with open arms. She uses hashtags like #sunset and #montreal unabashedly, not to get more followers but in the hope that she will connect with people.
But of course in this online persona and in real life, I do want to be honest… So let’s get real, I obviously apply a filter on nearly all of the pictures that I post on Instagram… But doesn’t everyone? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to make the world more beautiful and that’s really what the filter allows me to do, at least until Apple finally invents a camera on their phone that can 100% capture the true beauty of the incredible scenes that I frame with my iPhone.
Beyond the feeling that it’s impossible to capture the real thing, it’s equally appealing to me that you can apply a filter onto a photo and all of a sudden something looks that much more beautiful – it can be more glossy, or have a softer edge, or feel classically retro, or be more vibrant and colourful. Suddenly there is something a little unreal about it, and even though you know it is unreal, it still feels somewhat truthful. It is a challenging concept though because this means that I am publicly presenting and giving myself a filtered memory of that moment. When I look back on these pictures, I will have to acknowledge that they are not entirely representative of that precise moment in real life. But memory is already a bit of a haze as it is, so what’s wrong with giving it a nice glow?
With that being said, here in the photos I have shared you should know the unfiltered truth behind them. Some of the nights that I went to watch those sunsets I felt very sad and lonely. Some nights I felt really, really good about myself and thought that I was on top of the world. Some nights I felt very witty and clever and pleased to be taking such beautiful pictures. Some nights I was just content to be watching the sunset while listening to good music. Some nights I felt frustrated and angry with myself for being too focused on posting a picture. Some nights I felt like I was perfectly aligned with the universe and exactly where I was supposed to be. On all of those nights, I am fairly certain that none of these emotions were conveyed in the captions included with those pictures. That’s Instagram. #Filter. #NoFilter.