Instagram is the worst (or: I'm often at my worst when on Instagram)

Instagram is the worst (or: I'm often at my worst when on Instagram)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

My finger hovers over Reese Witherspoon's face.

I hesitate for a second, but I end up clicking on the little square. It was never really in doubt that I would.

I browse her page, take notice of her 11 million followers and click on a post where it shows that she's 41 with the words actress and producer preceding the number. She's only 10 years older than me. Pretty sure she wasn't blogging once a month a decade ago and crossing her fingers. 

I notice a comment from Demi Lovato. Click. I know her name but don't know her music yet I am swaying and mesmerized by a clip of her belting it out with a host of gospel singers backing up her vocals. It is meant to be an experience. There's a picture of her with Oprah. 

Naturally, Selena Gomez is my next stop on what is rapidly becoming an experiment in masochism. She's on the cover of Time, designed a Coach bag, yada yada yada. But I don't stay here too long. I notice a picture of Elle Fanning looking impossibly chic and very well balanced,  literally. She is balancing four little books on her blonde head. She is about 12 years younger than me and recently starred in a Sofia Coppola film with Nicole Kidman. When I was in my late teens to early twenties I was flunking out of Geology because I was excited to have a boyfriend and living in a dilapidated yellow house in Catonsville, MD with a cob webbed basement that was straight out of a Stephen King novel.

I realize I probably should stop. I go back and back and back (instead of just actually stopping), until I'm with Reese again. I look at the third picture from the newest. There's Laura Dern, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence. Two summers ago I tried to get my hair the shade of blonde that she had in Passengers. After a few trips to the salon and more money than I care to admit, I gave up because, as it turns out—shock—I'm not Jennifer Lawrence. Or Khaleesi. I dyed over my desperate blonde with a box of ashy brown, resulting in more ash than brown with a tiny hint of puke green in the right light. Or the wrong light, I guess.

I follow Reese (let's be inundated with this daily, shall we?) and then Instagram gives me more suggestions of other women to follow who will remind me of my smallness and ordinariness (of course, this was not the intent of said women, that is my own doing.)

The truth is, I am small, but only because I am jealous. 

I go back to my own saved draft that I had begun before I went click crazy. It is a picture of some drawings by my youngest daughter, paired with a caption that said this:

"We all have roles to play. A lot of the time I find myself wishing my role were bigger, less traditional, more seen. But that's not my life right now. Maybe it will never be my life. Maybe it will. Most likely I will die mostly unknown, as most people do. Am I ok with that? Does it even matter? 

Much of the time we find comfort in knowing that we are not alone, that everyone else really is the same as us. But when it comes to status and high visibility, we typically can't have that unless we are unique in some way, not the same as everyone else. I know not everyone wants that, but I think about it. I think about how that might transform my life. I think about how my ideas of what that would be like are probably not as romantic as they seem in my mind.

I think I'm confusing being known with being famous. Being the latter doesn't guarantee the former. The little girl who drew this picture, she knows me. She hooks her arm around my neck. She will randomly, but often, shout out: "I love you Mom!" whether we are driving the big kids to school or she's trying to get out of being in trouble. She draws these wonky, big headed, colorful people over and over and over and I will never have enough of them. She'll write the letters she knows, usually M's and E's and O's, and will ask me: "What does it say, Mom?!" I have a big box full of these papers with her name and the date written on the back. For when she's older. For when I'm old. So she will know that she is loved. To remind myself that I am already known."

The obvious irony is: you're here likely because of Instagram, where we may know of people but don't actually know them, or most of them, anyway. Apparently, this is the world we live in. The question is—how do we move forward without going insane? 

Sometimes I try to remember who I was and what I thought about before I became obsessed with the idea that the only way to truly be seen is to have more followers. As Amanda Petrusich so aptly put it in The New Yorker: "In 2018, eyeballs do not necessarily equal adulation." That being the truth, the truth is also that I've always wanted to be seen. I am resisting the urge to add a qualifier, as if that very human desire is somehow icky and shameful. To be seen is divine. To be consumed with jealousy is robbing myself from seeing others. 

I don't know what the answer is. I can't decide if the medium itself is the problem or if human nature (read: me) is the problem, exacerbated by the medium. After all, the medium can be a portal to people and things and ideas and experiences that we actually care about. 

My gut tells me that thinking about this issue is important just for the sake of mindfulness, of being aware of how I'm spending my time and of what is taking up my mental energy. But it's still time spent thinking about social media. Time I'm not crafting stories. Time I'm not marveling (or at least not uh-huhing as I scroll) over her M's and E's and O's. 

Book reviews: What Made Maddy Run + My Life, My Love, My Legacy

Book reviews: What Made Maddy Run + My Life, My Love, My Legacy