October 21, 2013

instawhores

I am technologically clueless: the crowning example being that I adamantly refused to part with my dilapidated Blackberry 9700 until it stopped working altogether and I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the alien world of touchscreen phones. Front camera? All the better to #selfie with, my dear. I probably spent about three hours taking pictures of myself, pleased as punch I no longer had to trial-and-error my way into being photogenic. At the risk of sounding like some unfortunately backwards caveman, I was tossed into social media sensory overload once I converted to an iPhone (Twitter! Instagram! Tumblr!) The social media world suddenly took on more color: every aspect of the lives of everyone I knew, sort-of knew, disliked, and haven't the slightest clue about, presented in all their crystal-clear retina display glory with as much pomp and circumstance as you please.

I now take pictures of food before I eat it. I update my Twitter with mainly self-centered, surely intellectually-detrimental and occasionally vacuous statements.  I have a hashtag for my own goddamn cooking. I #selfie'd. And there was one slightly shameful period where I attempted to exercise and posted all of my "healthy" cooking, Mayfair filter and all, replete with #healthyeating hashtags. I still sigh in relief that I at least had the common sense not to post any pictures of myself in a sports bra and earphones, weights conveniently placed so they lie in a picturesque (but nonchalant!!) pile in the lower left corner of a full-length mirror and then: #fitness #progress #squatlow #dropitlow #strongisthenewskinny (an arguable statement, but I digress) #motivation #liftheavyorgohome. Also shopping bags. I did not post any shopping bags. 

.... Okay, so maybe this is going to be focused on Instagram.



The initial (fine, eight-month-long) fascination I had with this particular social media outlet is beginning to wear off. I found myself getting increasingly annoyed while scrolling through my news feed, but for the life of me couldn't figure out why. Even now, I feel I won't be able to put my finger on the exact reason as successfully as I wish, so you may in for a bit of a convoluted read.

Perhaps it's best to start with a real-life example. 

Imagine a post of a normal, nondescript fruit salad.
Not particularly staged nor well-photographed; grapes, haphazardly cut melons, strawberries... 

Now, imagine comments regarding the aforementioned salad: 
"OMGAWD grapes!!!" 
"So ahmaayyzing" 
"I wish I had a salad like that" (I'm gonna go out on a limb here, but you totally can?)

Now, I don't mean to belittle anyone's taste in salad, nor do I mean to be insulting when confronted with the possibility of someone else's overwhelming affection for grapes, and I would never dream of poking fun at you if a bowl of fruit so happens to be the very thing that gets you off. But how "ahmaayyzing" is it really?

I'm afraid this poor bowl of fruit now has one more responsibility to bear asides from ruling the hearts of a few ardent fans and offending my sensibilities: while I don't take these comments seriously (some people must feel strongly about fruit, I'd imagine), the almost physically-tangible cloak of idiocy surrounding this picture pretty much ignited a strange WTF epiphany moment. The salad pissed me off, yes. But at least now I have a clearer idea of why I am generally pissed off upon entering our filtered wonderland of selfies and dinners. 

We've turned into a generation of attention whores and humble braggers: sadly (and not always consciously) clamoring to gauge our self-worth in the form of likes and followers. Our social media feeds serve as digital portfolios of every new acquisition: clothes, cars, a bag from some poor bastard; we show off how fit we are, how dedicated we are, how healthy we are, how successful we are. And need I mention the ubiquitous vacation photo, where all we see are some girl's upper thighs pointing towards a blue sky and palm trees with the following hashtags or others in a similar vein: #gettingatan #whathappensinvegas #staysinvegas?

Social media creates this inexplicable need (not to mention makes exceedingly easy) to show everyone how perfect our lives are. The sad thing is, they're not. The fucked up thing is, people will still believe us. We are constantly shoving the most glorious parts of our lives into our social media accounts whilst bathing in the secondhand fortunes of others doing the same. As a blogger, social media pretty much makes up the entirety of what we do, and one of the most annoying things I have discovered is that we tend to make things look/sound much better than they actually are. e.g. "Hey, we're having so much fun at this attention whore convention!! LOOK AT THIS GUYS" Well, no... no, it wasn't that awesome. But thanks to a few strategically taken shots at great angles and a hazy filter, it sure as hell looks like it. Lesson learned: no matter how it may look, nobody is shitting rainbows and riding unicorns. Our own humble patch of grass may be green enough, but everyone else's seems to have a fucking villa on it sporting a moat and a flock of flamingos.  

Now, I am in no way suggesting that something like a fruit bowl, however well-executed it may be, is a beacon of personal achievement. But we fall into the trap of believing the glamorization of everyone else's digitally edited lives that we start to covet what we do not own, the lifestyles we do not have, the people we cannot be. This idolatry has spun so out of control that we not only admire somebody, but we think it's okay to unabashedly display a shameless desire to emulate everything they have, be it their lunch or the shit coming out their ass. It seems that what's admired and what isn't is so skewed from all the subtle (or not-so-subtle) bragging we do that it has created a mentality unique to our generation: we want what other people have, with more fervor than ever before. We want, even more so, for other people to want what we have; and in order for people to want what we have, we feel that we need to have what they have. It's a vicious cycle, overflowing with victims of both heady narcissism and debilitating insecurity/envy (have I lost you yet?).


What else explains an Instagram photo of designer shopping bags/boxes (at least show us what's inside)? A handbag, jacket or similar purchases, carefully laid out with tags intact, captioned with something like "I couldn't resist #newbaby #shopaholic #badhabit"? A #bossy hashtag following a photo of something a girl bought herself, independent of male aid (it doesn't make you a boss. It just means you fall into that happy place most decent people occupy of not being a golddigging whore). A "progress photo" after 3 days at the gym? How about the much beloved/hated post of #selfie infamy, posted with a carefully self-deprecating caption along with a clusterfuck of hashtags that contradict the whole humility thing: "being a ragamuffin today #selfie #asian #girl #smile #bedhead #nomakeupnoproblem #mornings #hot #cute #awesome #ighunnies"? ...What gives?



INSTAFAUX-PAS INCLUDE, BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO:

1. The acceptance speech 


That "thanks to my boyfriend for the bouquet of roses and #Tiffany charm bracelet! #luckygirl #sohappy #inlove #boyfriend #couple" isn't, as I'm sure we all realize, so much as a thank you than the digital equivalent of driving around with a loudspeaker. I'm certain there are more private and arguably more satisfying ways to display affection and gratitude towards a significant other. An Instagram post is a pretty shitty way to show gratitude. I mean, that's really the only reason why someone would do this, right? Because they haven't done it in person already? And their phones suddenly couldn't call/text/WhatsApp/BBM/Facebook message, but can only upload pictures? You received a gift, not an Oscar. Nobody needs to hear you thank anyone except for that one single person who deserves it. 


2. The retail catalog



New bag? Have some class: rock it in an outfit instead of tastelessly putting the bag, its dust bag, the shopping bag it came in, tissue paper and gift wrap on display. All it's missing is the receipt. (I'm going to put what little faith I have left in humanity and assume that nobody includes the receipt). Do yourself a favor and just don't. It's tacky. Not to mention netaporter.com will probably have better photos of it from multiple angles (plus there's zoom!) 

3. The like-motivated instathlete


Posting pictures of ourselves at the gym does not, sadly, make us any more fit. Nor do #fitness hashtags. Nor does a holier-than-thou, self-righteous attitude. One may argue that it helps with the whole issue of accountability: but incredibly, people were working out before we had social media. #gains were had, even without updating 500 people who probably don't need to know, nor give half a flying fuck about, your work out routine or how many days you've completed on your #30daysquatchallenge. Groundbreaking stuff, really (don't forget, you heard it here first). In a nutshell: ladies, boys will check out an ass if said ass is a nice ass. This is a fact of life that's as unshakable as how much they also like tits. There's no need to stress out and be all, "but they need to know HOW MANY SQUATS I'VE DONE!!!" And to those with drastic results who want to show it off? Go nuts, you've earned it and then some. Just don't try to give us any unsolicited details as to how you got there. Sometimes a little mystique goes a fucking long way.

4. The shitty cheftographer


As for me, I should probably try to eat my food more than I document it. I mean, nobody really needs to witness most of my culinary struggles. Most people eat three meals a day, and that's hardly momentous enough of an occasion to warrant a picture. Breakfast! Lunch! Dinner! If your food looks like shit, don't post it. Even if it doesn't, I'm sure nobody really cares. I've definitely been guilty of the "DON'T TOUCH IT YET LET ME TAKE A PICTURE" as well as the accompanying extensive ingredient list that for some reason, a lot of us seem to think is necessary. At least I don't do the whole #wifey #gf #homemaker #cook #suchagoodgirl #becauseicanholdafryingpan #microwavemaster #putaringonme #prettyplease? Have I redeemed myself a little? Not really? Okay. 


What is social media, really? A place where everyone and anyone is a self-proclaimed digital celebrity; a place to scrutinize and be scrutinized; a place where attention equals currency. Ultimately, simply a place where we flaunt our shit to other people and creep on the shit other people flaunt. Profound, no? Having said that, allow me to return yet again to the example of our much-esteemed fruit bowl: it's a fucking bowl of fruit. Let us all not be so easily impressed and take it with a grain of salt. 

4 comments:

  1. I totally agree with you when you say that we've turned into a generation of attention whores and humble braggers. Two things which in no-way-hell go together are social media and humility. It’s probably a bigger oxymoron than a grown man, lol jk…not really. Unfortunately for me, choosing to be a communications student has come along with the intense pressures of being a digitally social creature. I hate to admit it but I am fully convinced that in order to get ahead in my career path, I have to be what I like to call a ‘narcissistic networking nazi’, and the best way to do that is to open my life up to people on social media platforms. Succumbing wasn’t easy but it helped when I realized that we no longer lead private lives anyway. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the whole ‘digital footprints’ issue but anyhow, that’s a whole other vindication. On a more relate-able issue, I think our digitally-savvy generation is in the midst of leading double lives- one being carefully documented online and fueled by our constant need to display ourselves based on our own idea of metaphysical perfection, and the other being our less-than-glorious actual selves. It really is saddening but I think the fact that you pointed out how some of us are not always conscious of this could append to how maybe it isn't so saddening after all? The social media has become exactly what you say it has- a great tool to show everyone how perfect our lives are, and if that’s not enough, we even get commemorated and instantly gratified (or shall I say ‘insta-gratified’) for every ‘like’ and comment we receive for whatever it was that we posted. All in all, what I’m trying to get at it here is that regardless of how people are gauging their self-worth, if those likes and followers are what make people happier, then that’s great for them, isn't it? Happiness is such a hard thing to achieve and embrace these days. Social media serves as our digital memoirs, so why would we post things that are not pleasing about us for other people to see and for us to cringe about when we look back on it? You say it’s fucked up that people will believe the life people try to imply through their Instagram photos but I say that’s fucking awesome LOL. Let those who aren’t close to you and those whom you barely talk to anymore marvel at all the glorious aspects of your life, ‘cause I mean, if that’s enough to save myself from having to do tedious 'catch-up' dates with old friends I don’t give a two shits about anymore, then by all means, "please creep my Instagram/Facebook/Twitter all you want" because they must be an OLD friend for a reason.

    Anyway, I can see how you are majorly annoyed by these ‘instawhores’ but my advice for you is to try to see the positive side of things. Focus less on how it exponentially creates an ‘insta-army’ of attention-seeking bitches and more on how it is a means of grasping a better understanding of ourselves through the processes of self-adornment. As such an artistic and well-articulated person as yourself, it should be easy for you to acknowledge that, at the end of the day, Instagram is merely an open outlet for self-expression- the same way this blog serves you. It works through by the essence of self fulfillment and in a largely uncanny way, we basically get to impress ourselves with ourselves lol! Whatever our intentions and however suggestive it may be, they get fulfilled the moment we press that little green check-mark in the top right corner. We should try to use that to our advantage, shouldn’t we? =)

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    1. I am not saying that people should display both the bad parts of their lives and the good, for who doesn't want to present themselves in the best light possible? We’re constantly marketing ourselves/branding our personal image, which is now so intertwined with social media that our general personal image pretty much = our online profiles.

      The whole problem with all this attention whoring isn't that it makes people feel better about themselves. It's what ultimately dictates WHY they feel that way. So you asked, why is it a problem as long as people are happy? Well, I don't really need to point out that SELF-WORTH/SATISFACTION based upon how much APPROVAL we get from others (and random strangers who don't actually give a shit, natch) is often a fickle and punishing way of being happy with ourselves. I'm not saying we don't need social approval to be happy; I'm really not that much of a revolutionary. But if you think people who are foolish enough to attain gratification via likes etc. should be left to their own devices because there's nothing wrong as long as they are "happy", you dear, are sorely mistaken. What’s gonna happen if shit goes the other way? Don't you think that if social media etc has so much power over how people evaluate their own goddamn selves that it's slightly dangerous?

      I would be the very first person to admit that instagram & the like gives me a great way to satisfy my vanity. The problem lies in this fucked up, roundabout dichotomy we've created puts our own heads so far up our asses that we actually start actively seeking & craving the attention we believe we deserve. We put shit up partly because "I’m gonna show everyone ________" Why? We feel like we’ve got something on them. It's this weird interdependent mixture of superiority & neediness that feeds a very precarious sense of self-worth & satisfaction. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we not only want people to believe this charade that we put on, but we want to believe it of ourselves. Then we see everyone else's lives & our own magical unicorn life that we've carefully cobbled together, look down at reality & go, "what the fuck happened?"

      I'm not this "happiness nazi" nor am I shitting on everyone using instagram to share whats going on in their lives. Because what IS social media for, if it isn't for sharing our lives with whomever we want? It's what goes on inside our heads that I'm trying to draw attention to. Our actions, demonstrated by these patterns of active, attention seeking behavior, illustrates what exactly, goes on. Sometimes, it ain’t pretty.

      I do agree with you that instagram etc is, at its core, designed to be an outlet of self-expression. But where’s the self-expression in posting stuff because we want to show off for other people? I'm afraid I will have to most respectfully decline your advice that I look on the positive side. I don't believe everybody using instagram is an attention seeking imbecile nor do I believe that it's possible to happily exist in society without having social approval in one way or another. But it's what it does to us in certain forms, that I think is unhealthy & something worthy of consideration when we engage in a bit of self-reflection.

      If I came across as rude, I wasn't trying to be. I find it incredible that someone not only took the time to read my super long rant, but replied with one of their own. Thanks for caring enough to share your opinion. Cheers!

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  2. You did come across a tad bit rude but I think that’s just due to your argumentative tone of writing. Don't worry, even if you weren't trying to be, no hard feelings taken. I think you may have mistaken my comment as instigating a debate but I honestly just meant for it to be a supportive reply. I never disagreed with anything that you said, in fact, I agreed with everything you said. If you took the “you say it’s fucked up… but I say that’s fucking awesome” as disagreeing, then I should have wrote “in other ways, that is ALSO fucking awesome”. I was simply making a point that would help to elucidate another angle concerning the subject.

    I apologize if my advice was distasteful to you. I didn’t mean for it to be a suggestion that magically eradicated the issues you have raised thus far, I was just trying to suggest a provisional solution to possibly help relieve you (to some measure, if any) of this annoyance you have with social media /Instagram /attention-seekers. Everything you’ve pointed out in terms of how social media has reconfigured our behavior and values is yes- quite dangerous, and strikingly scary if I may add. I never dismissed the fact that that was a problem because yes- it IS a “fickle and punishing way of being happy with ourselves”. I simply said that it was “great for them” that at the end of the day, that makes them happy and ultimately, that means they either don’t realise they’ve been manipulated and reconditioned by social media or they realise but… they’re happily willing to conform and perpetuate this phenomena. As they say, ignorance is bliss. You ask me “what’s gonna happen if shit goes the other way?”, well… yeah they’re pretty much fucked. But until then, let’s try not to concern ourselves with the ignorance of others- let them do them and you do you.

    You did a great job of drawing attention to this issue and I had a few good laughs from the extremity of your exaggerated examples. I did take the time to read your rant, and I felt encouraged to reply because you threw out a lot of questions in your post. If you take a reply as intellectual strife, maybe it would be wiser to not throw out questions… and if your questions were meant to be redundant, well then… forgive me!

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    1. I didn't find it distasteful, I just didn't agree with it and had to explain myself. If I came off as an asshole doing it, please be assured it wasn't intentional. There's no "intellectual strife" whatsoever and I simply wanted to further address/elaborate on some points you brought up (I can't resist doing that). I do love a good conversation/debate and I thank you for bringing your perspective to the table; it was more than welcome. Thoughtful, eloquent and sensible (not to mention polite!) replies are rare in this space we call the internet. Again, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts :)

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