Are we living our lives through Instagram stories?
An all too familiar moment for me - I spill some ice cream, my doggo starts lapping it up, and I’m scampering to set the bowl aside and switch on my story camera. The doggo trots away, he always knows and I’m sure he foils me on purpose. If a friend or BAE texts me something really cute, I'm screenshotting it to stories because I want the world to know about the affection that was meant solely for me. Somehow, this act feels like heightened validation of the giver's kindness, one level up than simply thanking and appreciating them in private. Millennials! We’re always all for hyping it up and going overboard on social media - subtlety is but an outdated elegance. We “love” and “constant” and “forever” and “bff” every person floating around in the orbit that is our life, even the inconsequential specks. Someone we’ve only had ten virtual conversations with, or the acquaintance (termed a lot more than that) from another time that we never got around to calling or meeting ever again.
We “can’t live without” that cup of coffee, the one from the quirky cafe with interiors designed to provide the perfect Instagram wall. If I come across profound wisdom in a novel - I'm not fetching my highlight pen, I'm sharing it on the ‘gram and underlining with a digital brush tool so that people who are viewing stories instead of reading books can read along as I upload stories of myself reading books. Sigh, the value signalling we partake of for our imaginary audience. None of these are unacceptable things to do; most of them actually spread joy, knowledge, value or positively impact the lives of others. I know I've made someone out there think, or smile, and I have so many testimonies to attest to that. But, why was I capturing how the moments of my life play out for the benefit of others, way more than I'm living in it for me? Why am I not paying attention to the present moment for myself, eyes over lens? Step away from it all, and you’ll find yourself thinking, “Are we viewing our own lives through our stories?”
The habit of mindlessly, sometimes fanatically, keeping up on this highlight-reel edition of the lives of others' in a dazed stupor is widespread. How often when you're by yourself, travelling in public transport, or waiting in queue, do you pause and just pay attention to your environment? Or, the people in it? Scrolling is becoming our default stance as human beings. It's almost like a shielding bubble of nonchalance that one feels comfortable to wear in public; more so than not having anything to do with your hands. I lived in a mental distortion wherein I knew too much about too many people, most of whom I didn’t think about once when I went offline. It was clear as day, I actually didn’t even care about them at all! But, the mental clutter my social media blew in was undeniable. It’s a fertile ground for delusion - everybody's life in the little bubble 'world' we let Instagram create for us is way richer than our own.
All of this felt just as unnerving watching Black Mirror. There is a serious disconnect between stories, and real life. And stories may be seriously disconnecting some of us from our real lives as well! I discovered the top three sources of discontentment from story-sharing were most likely these:
The constant feeling that an audience is watching our life, exclusively. They have popcorn, and they know your every move, thought and outfit. Hence, how you live your life must be adequately, consistently curated.
The petty. There's always that one person you might be rubbing it in for, nonchalantly. You're checking your story views and looking for them. It could be an ex-flame, or a frenemy even!
Being inauthentic, literally, hurts our mental health. Yet, I see it everywhere - long-winded declarations of affection on social media when you’re not even that close. I know of couples with a lush stream of PDA, while one of them is sliding into their ex’s DM that very moment wondering if they want to get back together.
We can lose a healthy sense of autonomy over our own lives if the compulsion to curate moments on social media unhinges our mindfulness. The restless urge to 'story' every moment becomes almost physical, the feeling that your moments are somehow 'lesser' real or valid if not on the story. "I did it for the 'gram" is an actual thing people say now!
In 2019, most of our careers, lives and relationships are far too enmeshed with social media to write it off altogether. That would feel like going back to the Stone Age. But I found that the key to experience independence while enjoying social media is two things - the first, being aware of what my intention with social media is. Why am I on there? I like to have a visual platform where I can express my thoughts and creativity. Secondly, I needed a clear demarcation of what 'privacy' should feel like - and I think all of us do! My idea of privacy is having areas, events and spaces in my life that just won't be making it to the ‘gram. As a rule. It's like a circle of protection, a safe space I enjoy off the matrix! Being off social media felt like moving from an apartment right above a high traffic highway to a chalet in the woods, and I’m trying to hold on to that feeling as much as I can by soundproofing my windows.
by Oorja Makkad