Home Popular Culture Thoughts on Instagram, jealousy and bragging

Thoughts on Instagram, jealousy and bragging

by Ellie Hopgood

As you might be able to tell, there have been some changes to the blog. I should have some articles coming out on sites that aren’t mine (exciting!) in the next few weeks, which should hopefully bring a few new readers over to my little spot on the Internet. But with that in mind, I was looking at my site and cringing over how basic it was. This made sense, of course; I am a new blogger, I make no money from my blog and I wanted to write and share without it costing thousands of pounds (which is the cost of a professional website) or hours of my time sat in front of my laptop crying about basic web design. However, I felt like the time had come to spend either money or time and tears on sharpening up Restless. I don’t have a few thousand pounds to happily throw at a redesign, so a £50 theme and hours of frustrated experimentation it was. I hope you like it!

Making my blog look more put together is only one part of my growing efforts to turn my writing and photography into something a little more professional. I have been pitching other sites and publications (some of which have been successful!), figuring out how to sell my photos and dreaming up projects that would be bigger than a blog post and might also net me some coin. From a photographic point of view, the most important thing I need now is a proper digital portfolio. That’s my next task for this week.

But what about creating a more easily accessible portfolio that other people might stumble upon while browsing an addictive social media platform?

That’s right, I’m talking about Instagram.

I know what you’re thinking: “Hey Ellie, didn’t you make a big show of quitting Instagram literally three months ago?”

Why yes, astute reader, I did – and I’m very conflicted. My greatest instinct is still to stay off the platform, because I don’t like how it monopolises my attention with ads, sponsored posts and a stream of poorly filtered pictures of minor public figures that I know well enough to be distracted by but not well enough to actually care about. On the other hand, I would like to share my photos and it feels like any aspiring photographer needs to have an Instagram portfolio. This would be another handle, just for photography, and I wouldn’t mention the blog there at all.

But beyond my personal gripes with Instagram, namely that I am too susceptible to being sucked in for minutes on end, I have broader thoughts about why Instagram doesn’t always feel like a positive place.

A lot of the time, it feels like bragging.

I don’t think people are intending to brag, for the most part. I know I’m not. But I’m self-aware enough to know what it looks like when I’m posting pictures from yet another European destination, and it’s not something that will make most people feel good about their own lives in that split second.

I feel it too. Even though I am one of the luckiest, most fortunate people on the planet, when I see one of my friends or favourite travel bloggers jetting off on an amazing adventure, I feel that little pang of jealousy. We all know Instagram is a highlight reel, which makes sense when you think about it; the things in your life you feel comfortable broadcasting to a wide range of people, from best friends to acquaintances to strangers, are probably moments where you feel powerful, happy and beautiful, rather than insecure or vulnerable. I don’t think the solution to the problem of people comparing someone’s imaginary perfect life with their less-than-perfect real life is for everyone to start posting about their terrible moments to an audience that is ultimately not placed to provide any real support or insight. When you’re feeling uncertain or unsettled, the last thing you need is hundreds of people who you barely know discussing a deeply personal situation. Posting a photo of you in a bikini in Crete is low-stakes in the way writing a long-caption about your imminent break-up is not.

No, I think the trend of surface-level, best moment ever content on Instagram is here to stay. But I do wonder when someone – not just minor celebrities or influencers, but my friends and other normal people too – posts a photo of their incredible holiday, perfect abs, new job, new car or shiny engagement ring what most people are supposed to feel. Your closest friends will (hopefully!) be happy or excited for you – but they would know about these developments whether Instagram existed or not. For most people, that picture is just another image in an endless feed of fun moments in other people’s lives, and I imagine that if you’re having a hard time, it can be a tough pill to swallow.

Because regardless of whether you can face it or not, we live in a world where some people – even within the same postcode or city – lives vastly easier lives than others. Sure, every life involves heartache and struggles, but some will be contending with crushing student loan debt, poverty or chronic health issues (or all three) while others are taking their third international trip of the year. The world is not a level-playing field and nothing makes that more obvious than the stream of brunch and passport photos filling up a privileged young person’s Instagram page. Again, I know that these same people (of which I am one!) also have painful moments and hard times. Everyone does. But even in the context of universal rough moments, some people will never have the easy brunch-in-foreign-city-just-because-we-wanted-to-type of opportunities that come so naturally to others and I’m sure that having that reality shoved in your face every time you boot up Insta can be a little frustrating.

Is this blog different? You tell me. I hope so, because starting Restless was directly about adding more context to travel – and other moments – in the hope of avoiding the basic bragging/jealousy dynamic that underpins a lot of Instagram interactions. You also have so much more of a choice of whether or not to visit a blog, whereas to avoid the posts of a friend on social media you have to unfollow them, which can be hurtful or awkward, especially if they ask why.

I like writing about these experiences long-form, hopefully offering something of a little more substance than one picture of me on a beach with a coconut emoji as the caption. Also, Instagram tends to be about the individual, not the photographer, and I like sharing my photos rather than ceaseless pictures of my face taken by somebody else. This blog does contain travel posts but also explorations of current politics, climate change and cultural critiques like this one, so I like to think it offers more to a reader than the average Instagram post (it certainly takes more effort!).

Maybe I’m just projecting. I couch this language in the words of ‘people,’ ‘someone’ and ‘we’ but it’s me who hates posting photo after photo from a beautiful country with little to no explanation or without offering someone a choice in the matter. I am so lucky and I know that the reasons I have the means and time to travel are only in part down to my own efforts and primarily due to the massive privilege I have in this world. It feels so wrong to shove that in someone’s face when they didn’t expressly choose to read about my adventures.

But I do love photography. I think I’m good at it, for an amateur. I want to find more work related to photography and for that to happen, I have to share my photos as widely as possible, and a billion member-strong photo-sharing platform seems like the obvious place to start. On the other hand, I hate getting sucked into the world of endless refreshes, checking for likes and mindless scrolling, which I am prone to. I also hate the thought of ever making a friend feel bad about their life and circumstances, which seems inevitable when contributing to a platform that is used almost exclusively at this point to share your best moments. How do you share your life while also being sensitive to the lives of others? 1400 words later, I’m not sure I’m any closer to figuring out the answer…

What do you think? Should I share my photos on Instagram? Do you feel jealous looking at other people’s lives on social media?

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4 comments

Floz June 13, 2019 - 7:59 pm

You could consider having Instagram, but following 0 people? I did that for a couple of months to see what effect it had on my screen time. Then I could be sure that all the time I spent on Instagram was either texting my friends or posting things, and none of it was mindless scrolling. It was odd at first, but I got used to having nothing pop up on my home page and actually found it quite refreshing. The only thing is it has been pointed out that it’s quite hypocritical to still post, and to expect people to like and see my posts, but not to like and see theirs back. Something to think about…?

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Ellie Hopgood June 13, 2019 - 8:20 pm

That’s an interesting thought, I hadn’t considered that. I guess if I started a proper photography Insta it would partly be to build relationships with people/other photographers, so I’d feel like I was missing out on that meaningful interaction. Also, there are some amazing photographers whose pictures I love seeing, but I am way too prone to hours of scrolling to be able to not wander off after seeing some real art. I hate how my focus is so easily monopolised by the app and how surface most of it is, but I like the thought of people seeing my stuff (and I theirs) and us forming a relationship over it. I just realised I’m describing the purpose of my blog – but my blog does not have over a billion ready made users! I’ll think on it. Thank you for commenting Floz!

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Livia June 14, 2019 - 9:37 am

I was recently thinking about Instagram in a similar way. My thoughts were a bit different to yours though. I mostly follow people I know, who live a normal life like me but who are a lot more active on this platform. I noticed myself looking at the pictures of their parties, and social life in general, days out in the park, etc and thinking, wow they have a wonderful life, much better than mine. But then, at some point, I stopped and thought “well, don’t you also go to parties, have a great social life, enjoy sunny summer days in parks?”. The answer was that I definitely do, but that not posting it on Istagram made me feel as if it wasn’t real, because wasn’t validated by others. When I realised this, I stopped posting entirely for a few months, hoping I would be able to appreciate the good things in my life even without IG. I recently went back to it when I realised that I could post for myself and for my memory. Not for other people validation. I love scrolling down my IG profile, and being reminded of the beautiful moments that I lived in the more or less recent times.

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Ellie Hopgood June 14, 2019 - 2:08 pm

That’s such an important part of it too, thanks for sharing, Livia. So important to find your own happy place when it comes to sharing your life and keep in mind that sharing on social media does not make an experience. I think that’s a little relevant to the blog too – even if it’s not on Instagram, it is shared and documented somewhere. It’s definitely important to remember that even if no one knows about something, it’s just as real and valid as if they do. I often feel this way about doing things alone – if there’s no one there to share it with me, then does it mean as much? But of course, I just have to decide to feel that way.

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