The blurred lines between #life and social media
January 24, 2019
I was hiking up Highland Bowl yesterday on a much needed and very much appreciated solo session, time by myself that I really savor and covet these days.
It was late afternoon by the time I got up there and very quiet and cold, which added to the feeling of peace and solitude that I'd been craving. In the spirit of that, I thought maybe I'd abstain from taking photos and resist the need to post photos of my outing on social media.
And yet, at the top I snapped a few of those same images of the views I've captured so many times before. I did end up posting two of the scenic shots to my photos with what I fancied clever captions, "standing above the clouds" and "#solomission."
The truth is, I'd composed that post in my head as it was happening. Thinking about what types of images I'd get, and what I'd write for captions and what graphics and filters I'd use and whether I'd post it as a story or just a regular post.
This is proof that social media has permeated my life in a way I find extremely disturbing, and I'm not the only one.
I have many friends who have either abstained from Instagram altogether or have chosen to use it as a way to vent about how messed up social media is. I often wonder how much time people spend on social media complaining about how much they despise social media. The best is when they announce that they're leaving, as if anyone would actually notice or care. Like, do you stand on top of a chair at a party or a restaurant and scream, "I'M LEAVING NOW, EVERYONE! THIS PLACE SUCKS!"
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I share that ambivalence. I am inextricably drawn to it and check it several dozen, if not several hundred times a day. I ignore the little messages that say "You're all caught up from the last 3 days" and look at pictures I've already seen, again.
Images from all over the world of inane people doing inane things flash before my eyes interspersed with advertisements for everything from handbags and teeth-whitening systems to mattresses. These algorithms target-market me like a demented digital stalker, flashing temptations in the periphery of my life all day long, staccatos flicker across the backs of my eyelids like an old movie reel.
I also spend a lot of time looking at the feeds of people I don't even know.
There's the celebrity feed, which irrationally makes you feel like you are somehow part of this person's life, like they are your friend. I've watched Kate Hudson in her post baby bliss, seen Kourtney Kardashian's vacations and Reese Witherspoon's mom's house and even her kid's Instagram feeds.
Then there are the commercial accounts I follow, the restaurants and the stores and the ski resorts, the places I go and the people I know and felt obligated to follow. So now my feed is more than half advertising in some form or another and even worse than watching network TV.
As if that's not enough, there are random people I follow, like the yoga guy from Los Angeles who does handstands all day long without his shirt on, his sweat dripping right onto the camera lens as the vein in his forehead pulsates with the pull of gravity. I have spent weeks now trying to decide if I like or despise the guy, if I'm intrigued or offended, and if some of his posts aren't overtly, intentionally sexually provocative. I'm not the only one — he has over 200,000 followers and what appears to be a viable business, leading yoga trainings online. I even briefly considered signing up for one.
Then there's the obsession with my own posts and the need to go back and check them over and over to see how many likes they garnered and who was paying attention. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing that little icon light up with a number next to it to indicate how many private messages I've received.
Finally, there is the nagging possibility that, like the sweaty, half-naked back bending yoga guy from LA, there might be a way to make a living off Instagram. As a member of the media and an aspiring blogger I feel compelled to try, to figure out to make money off this so-called "content." I am a communicator, after all. Since I was a young girl, I had a natural inclination to document the world around me, to see details and share stories and make people laugh. I love telling stories. I love media. I love putting words and pictures together, so it makes sense that I would love this.
But as a person and a human being, I feel repelled, often resisting the urge to toss my smartphone into the ice flow that has recently deluged the Frying Pan River. Why does it sometimes feel like some kind of disease, at best a compulsion and at worst an addiction? What does it mean for a writer, a person who covets the art of the written word and has spent half her career mastering things like proper grammar and punctuation to concede to hashtags, words all smashed together like letter vomit?
Oh, it all boils down to hashtags. You can put "life" after almost anything and have the perfect hashtag. Ryan loves to joke about that and will often throw it out there in the midst of something random. On our road trip to California we laughed halfway across the desert making jokes about it.
"Hashtag road trip life," he'd say.
"Hashtag cheap motel life," I'd reply.
"Hashtag potato chip life," he'd retort.
You get the idea.
But what about real life? I couldn't help thinking as I hiked the Bowl by myself yesterday: If no one is there to witness it, did it really happen?
The Princess is having an existential crisis. Send your condolences to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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