WHY I LOVE TO HATE INSTAGRAM
Anniki Sommerville on the smoke-and-mirrors world of Instamums and motivational quotes...
I know you’re possibly reading the title and thinking - YAWN- another article about the pressures of looking at perfect images via social media. Another shout-out for us to be honest and stop sharing the gorgeous side of life. Then, of course, there was the recent Mumsnet versus Instagram forum thread, which many wisely chose to ignore rather than add fuel to the fire, (my main beef with the complainers was - why follow people if they drive you mad? You really CAN unfollow people you know. It’s not dissimilar to people who slag off a specific TV show but also INSIST on watching the whole thing).
From a personal perspective, my experience has been mixed. The positives are: the great friends and contacts I’ve made, and the support I get when I’m sitting at the kitchen table feeling insignificant and like I’m wading through molasses. I also like seeing other women doing well and getting inspired by their success. And then on some days I don’t like it.
I don’t like it one bit.
When I asked a few people on their point of view, it was interesting that the camaraderie/community was frequently mentioned as a good thing, and the comparison and ensuing envy as bad. I know I can’t be the only person who wakes up, with shoulders scrunched up by my ears (this seems to be my natural state post forty), and finds the endless achievement and calls to; ‘DO WHAT INSPIRES YOU MOST,’ or ‘ACHIEVE YOUR DREAMS RIGHT NOW,’ stuff exhausting. What if I want to put a wash on and make lasagne? What if that’s all I’ve got? What if I have no actual idea how to BUILD THE AUTHENTIC LIFE I’VE ALWAYS WANTED? What if the cat is the only person I will speak to until my daughter gets back from pre-school?
On a bad day, Instagram gives you the sense that everyone else is speeding down this amazing, cut-and-thrust, innovation highway at breakneck speed and you’re a plastic bag gently swaying on a tree, right next to the highway.
The irony is that when I meet people face-to-face, they often tell me how amazingly I’m doing and how I’m at the coalface of creativity and some sort of Sheryl Sandberg/JK Rowling hybrid. This is the ‘smoke-and-mirrors’ aspect of social media. Appearances are not always as they seem. They have no idea that a good deal of my time is spent listening to Woman’s Hour, googling recipes for leftover roast chicken and waiting for some work to come through the door.
Another thing that gets me down is I often spend MORE time on social media than I spend doing meaningful work. At the moment, I’m trying to finish a book, and I spend more time taking photos of extracts of this book and putting them on Instagram, than I do writing the feckin’ thing. I’m sure Virgina Woolf didn’t deal with this.
I only realised the gravity of my social media habit when I started using this app called ‘Forest’ which makes you set a time limit and, if you pick your phone up before the allotted time, you ‘kill’ a tree. Now I kill roughly five trees a day. Something weird happens when you start scrolling and it becomes difficult to stop.
I’m in a strange position as I feel like I’m on the periphery of this phenomenon. I have friends who are mega Instagram brands and I love them but, when I go to Instagram parties or launches, I get anxious. It’s like I’m a teenager, back at Wendy Starling’s 14th birthday in Lewisham, and I’m sporting badly permed hair, an experimental African print jumpsuit and jelly-bean sandals.
Why am I here? What will I talk about? Does anyone like me? Do I like anyone? Am I a brand? What is my brand? Is that girl looking over my shoulder because someone more important has just walked in? And I so badly want everyone to like me. I want them to carry me around the room. I want to hear nothing but my name being chanted over and over.
‘All these people are wankers,’ I said to a friend recently while we were at an event.
‘Do you really mean that?’ she asked, puzzled, because I no doubt looked like I was having a good time.
And I do love going to some of the parties. I try to give myself a pep talk beforehand and not divulge too much (not everyone wants to know about my sex life/fertility issues/the fact that many years ago I spotted Michael Hutchence outside Top Shop in Oxford Circus - that last one is cool though so I may keep harping on about it).
And then, when I’m ‘on the gram’, sniffing it in like a powerful amphetamine, hunched over my phone, snaffling away, well then, I take a selfie and try to remember that face.
It’s a woman with her nose pressed against the window of a super-cool party. It’s a woman who wants to get in. She’s feeling exhilarated. She’s going to nail it and live the life of her dreams.
She’s also a bit of a wanker.
:: Follow Anniki Sommerville's daily musings from the coalface of creativity on her Instagram account @annikiselfishmother