Is it just me, or are we facing a severe shortage of opinions about what one should and–more importantly–shouldn’t share on a social network? To be exact, I have Instagram in mind. Not even sunset shots are safe from complaint, and the rallying cries just keep coming: No cats! No dogs! No babies! No selfies! No hot dog legs! Nothing that looks more fun than what I’m doing!
And, perhaps the loudest and most indignant of all: No food!
Ah, Internet. Tell me how you really feel. You’re so good at it.
Some of these thou-shalt-not-Instagram complaints center around the idea that plopping a photo into social media does not a photographer make. That all of a sudden, everyone fancies himself or herself an artist, despite how little effort it requires to use Instagram to make the mundane look decent or even good. These complaints are obviously missing the point. While I’ve seen some truly beautiful Instagram shots, it’s not about photography–no one thinks they’re the Ansel Adams of chicken and waffles. (If they did, the eyesore that is the Kelvin filter wouldn’t exist.)
We’re not playing photographer. What we’re actually doing is showing the world (or our world, for more private folks) what we care about. I once heard Instagram described as a line one throws out there to say, “I’m here, and the lines of communication are open.” I would further elaborate to say that Instagram, like all social media, is a line one throws out there to say, “I’m here, the lines of communication are open, and these are the things that are important to me.” It just so happens that some of us care about food. To us, it’s more than a chore, a necessary fuel, or a grocery bill. To us, food is creative, it’s fun, it’s interesting, and yes, it can be aesthetically beautiful.
Ultimately, caring about things comprises who we are. So, you’re annoyed with me, not my Valencia-ed afternoon latte.
After we eliminate all those photo subjects supposedly nobody cares about, what are we left with, exactly? What’s something we can all collectively deem worthy of capturing, cropping, filtering, captioning, and creatively hashtagging? Ask any Instagramudgeon and you most likely won’t get a good answer. Because there isn’t one.
Why? I’d venture to say that it’s because what’s happening here is deeper. It’s not the subject matter that’s causing these little annoyances. It’s the fact that we’re all navigating a socially weird place and time; we haven’t gotten used to the idea that we are constantly connected to a few people whom we know well and thoroughly enjoy, and many more people whom we know only marginally–and/or worse, whom we just don’t like very much. And for whatever reason, breaking a connection like that (the dreaded unfollow/unfriend!) feels permanent–and A Totally Big Deal no matter which side of it you fall on, even though we tell ourselves it’s impossible to be liked by everyone.
Well, maybe it’s time we admitted the flip side of this–it’s also impossible to like everyone. When you don’t enjoy someone’s presence, of course their seemingly innocuous photo stream will aggravate you. You’ll tell others, and maybe yourself, that it’s because it’s a duckface selfie/hackneyed feet-on-the-beach shot/JUST THEIR STUPID BREAKFAST, but it’s not because of what fills the frame. Trust me: it’s because you just aren’t fond of that person. And that’s fine, yo.
So, please just unfollow me already. However, leave that beautiful sandwich I picked up at a little Italian deli in North Beach, San Francisco, out of this. She didn’t do anything.
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