On Instagram's Curated Reality

I was recently talking to one of my coworkers about our staff. We typically regard ourselves - in a somewhat joking manner - as the grumpy old men. We just don't understand the younger people that we work with.

We were discussing the fact that the staff often spend the majority of their time online, connecting on social media. When they walk in, they're Snapchatting. On their breaks, they're browsing Instagram and texting each other. It's this constant need to connect and share for no other reason than to connect and share just for the sake of it. 

He and I joke about this, grumpily calling them millennials, but we know that we're just as guilty of this as well. But the difference is that where we browse passively, they are always online - aggressively.

I shared with him two articles I had read. The first talked about how on Instagram, teens would aggressively curate their profiles. If a particular photo didn't get enough likes, they'd delete it, so that only the top photos would survive. The second, which is a more recent article, also talked about Instagram, and how it can be the most harmful social media platform for your mental health, and I understand and sort of agree with its premise.

Now, I'm not the typical Instagram user. I don't follow any of my friends and I typically try to avoid any of the feeds that focus primarily on people. I want to see the world around me, and the the world around you. I don't need to know what you look like to want to see your perspective. But browsing through the Explore tab is another thing entirely. In there, all I see are impossibly beautiful models and ultra beefy men. 

The thing with that, and what the second article touches upon, is that young people are incredibly impressionable. They often compare themselves and their bodies to unrealistic images that have been manipulated. But more insidious than that is that it also creates this thought process in which young people think that they too can and should have bodies that look like what they're seeing online, and that they too can have these luxurious lifestyles.

Scott McCloud, the famous cartoonist, talked about how comics were able to make people feel like the characters were reflecting themselves; like the comics were speaking to them personally. The way he described is that when you see the face of someone else, you see the other. But when you see a blank, expressionless face (and sometimes, no face at all), it's easier to project and to see yourself.

Scrolling through my Explore tab on Instagram, all I can see are the same impossible beautiful models and ultra beefy men, all with that same expressionless look on their faces. More than that, however, are the millions of photos with these people taken in various exotic locales. These types of photos do two things. First, they make you believe that you too can achieve that level of beauty and fame while being able to travel all over the world with total ease. And second, they create unrealistic standards, because while it may be fun to browse through these photos and live vicariously through them, they help to lower self-esteem and fuel issues such as FOMO-induced anxiety and depression. All of this is because we project ourselves onto these people we don't even know, but still idolize.

Platforms like Instagram and Twitter are still excellent ways to explore the world around you. I still enjoy them but seemingly less and less these days. It's hard not to be drawn in when I log in and see all those beautiful shots of the world around me. It's extremely easy to edit and manipulate things these days, so you never really know what's real and what's not, so I think that as long as you know how to filter out the noise and the excess on any given social platform, they can still be enjoyable.

On Privacy

Back when I was in university, one of my favourite things to do was to sit at the top of the lecture hall and try and figure out what kind of computers people were using. This was happening just as the smartphone wars between iOS and Android were heating up, so aside from the odd iPhone and Blackberry here and there, there wasn't much going on in that space.

I loved figuring out what versions of operating systems people were using, and the applications that went with them. I eventually got to be so good at doing that that it stopped being fun. That's when I shifted my attention to the then and now maturing smartphone market. Nine times out of ten, I can figure out what phone someone is using (because nine times out of ten it's either a Galaxy or iPhone).

With that, combined with my natural curiosity, I began to watch what people were doing on their phones. It's incredibly fascinating, seeing what apps people are using, how they've organized their home screen, and if they're the type of people to obsessively close their apps every five seconds. It's sort of my way of studying how other people work and go about their days, but mostly it's because I'm nosy in the most harmless sense of the word.

Every once in a while, during my over-the-shoulder glances into people's lives, I'll be dropped into something immensely personal and private. I've seen people send silly faces over Snapchat, a guy texting his parole officer, a girl breaking up with her boyfriend, and another person watching videos that can only be described as inappropriate for a public setting. 

And to be clear, none of these individuals are monsters - I am. I am the person who is willingly and knowingly peering into their lives and invading what they believe to be private moments. I mean, consider all the people you've ever run into who have talked loudly in public spaces regarding private and personal matters. If you talk in public, then yes, you deserve to be eavesdropped upon. Typing should feel different from that, but when you have a large, glowing rectangle pointed in my direction, you have to expect that I will see some of what you're typing away. That being said, I am a monster. I think.

What's odd to me is how the once very clear lines have blurred so heavily. We now do work from home, and personal stuff at home. Everything happens everywhere, and it all happens on our phones now. These little devices contain our entire lives, pushing the boundaries of what we consider private and public to the point of nearly destroying them. We post so many things on Facebook and Snap so much more; the question is where do we draw this line between private and public? Who is allowed to watch and who isn't? The problem here is that our phones make everything feel so immediate and of higher importance that we no longer think about where we are or what we're doing.

I've been thinking about privacy a lot over the last few months. For the first time in what seems like essentially ever, people are starting to seriously think about the implications of having these tiny, pocketable super computers that know everything about you. We have cameras that are on, paired with smart speakers in our living rooms, always listening to what we say. They say that their memories are short, but how can we be certain?

That's not to say that this isn't a tough question to mentally grapple with. Am I subject to your rules and surveillance every time I visit you at your house? Am I allowed to cover up any cameras with tape if they make me feel uncomfortable? So much of ourselves is now out there floating around, constantly being captured and stored, waiting to be presented to the whole world. 

Ultimately, each of us is allowed a reasonable expectation of privacy, but that's up to us to determine how much of that is actually in our control. Over the last year, I took the appropriate steps to enable multi-factor authentication on everything, from my Facebook to Twitter to Google accounts, and have only begun convincing my family members to do the same. Email has always had an unofficial mantra - never send anything you wouldn't want anyone to see, so if you're really trying to be private, maybe don't send things over email. It may seem trivial and silly, but we really should hold ourselves and our tech to one standard - that you are in control of your sense of self and privacy. The two go hand in hand. If you don't want people to overhear your business, then maybe don't talk loudly about it in public. Or, at the very least, look around to make sure no one is watching or listening every once in a while.

I don't think that anyone of us has really spent the time to think these things through, including their possible ramifications. Maybe with this new Presidency, in all of its insecure glory, now is the time to do so.

In the mean time, if you find anyone creeping your text messages, it's probably me.

New Year's Resolutions That I Totally Intend On Keeping

I've never been one for writing down resolutions for the new year, nor one to actually keep them. Sure, in theory they seem fine, and if you're the kind of person who can actually do what they say that they're going to do, then kudos to you. For me, I like to set goals in the vaguest sense of the word, because then I can accomplish them at my leisure. Speaking of which, it's already a week into 2017 and I'm slacking already on one of my resolutions (which I'll get to in a minute).

The last year was absolutely bonkers. There was so much fear, and so many deaths that by the time New Year's Eve rolled around, everyone was screaming, "just get on with it already!" It was exhausting and even for the strongest among us, made us lose a little hope. However, it's a new year, and that means a fresh start.

I started 2016 with a few simple goals.

  1. Take more photos
  2. Travel
  3. Say, "I love you," more often to more people

I think it's safe to say that I more or less accomplished those. I traveled through India with my parents and subsequently got stuck in Brussels. Over the summer I did a road trip across Canada with my best friend and my girlfriend, and last year was the first time I ever told someone that I loved them as more than just a friend, and she stuck around! So inspite of the tumultuous year that we all just came out of, I feel pretty good about my 2016.

However, 2017 is a year in which I want to do things slightly differently. 2016 was the year I wanted to do more, so 2017 is the year I want to do less so to speak.

I want to take less photos.

Having a DSLR with a fancy new lens and a ginormous memory card makes it incredibly easy to be the guy who takes a zillion photos and keeps them all. I was recently going through photo albums with my mom, and remembered that there was once a time in which you had a set number of photos to take. You either made sure it was worth it, or lived with a blurry mess of a memory you missed out on capturing forever. There's something about that idea that I really like. I want to spend less time taking photos and trying to find the perfect composition, and spend more time interacting with my surroundings.

That ties in with social media as well. After watching the Black Mirror episode on social media and our obsession for likes, favs, hearts and stars, I had one thought - I want to think more and post less. I want to spend less time live-tweeting a movie marathon and spend more time actually enjoying it. Ever since I started dating my girlfriend last year, I noticed a shift in how and when I use platforms like Twitter. Now I use it once every few days, whereas before, it would be multiple times a day. I'm no longer concerned with cultivating my online persona so much as I just want to experience things and occasionally share what interests me.

I want to travel less.

I've done my fair bit of international travelling. It wasn't until after the events in Brussels this year that I really decided to do more domestic travelling. I want to see more of my home - whether it's my city, province, or country as a whole; I want to experience and understand the place that I live in first. I think that doing that road trip over the summer was really just the first step in doing so, and I can't wait to travel less abroad and spend more time at home.

I want to read less.

Less articles, and more books, that is. Ever since I became a Pocket user, my consumption of news skyrocketed, and my love for books plummeted. Following sites like LongReads has certainly helped to get my attention span back, but I find that it's harder and harder for me to invest myself in a novel these days. In 2016, I read maybe five novels total, and I want to change that, which means less time at night before bed scouring Reddit and Twitter and more time disconnecting and reading something less fleeting than the news.

And lastly, I want to write more. I've had this website for nearly three years now, and I haven't done nearly as much with it as I'd like. It's gone through some aesthetic changes, but beyond that, I'm not doing it nor myself justice. Up until now, I was artificially limiting what I'd write about, because I had this idea in my head of what this site should represent. I've left a lot of great ideas on the cutting room floor, because they didn't seem to fit. 2017 is the year that changes. 2017 is the year I write about what truly interests me, and far more regularly too.

There are a lot of things I want to do, but I think that by starting with less, even vaguely so, is a good thing. It'll be a good exercise for me - the withdrawal from my old routine and breaking of old habits to focus on what's good for me. Hopefully, this is something that will work, especially as we roll forward into the uncertain year that is 2017.

I hope you all have an amazing year, and let's make 2017 the best that it can be.