Insta(nt) Satisfaction

selfies were already popular in 1997
selfies were already popular in 1997

Have I signed over my life to an app?

After quitting my job I promised myself to take one picture every day, to mark and celebrate my decision and as a reminder to make the most of it.

And this is how the Instagram mania came to pass. In the beginning it was simply a visual diary. But the more I looked the more I saw. My photographic brain kicked in and the flabby muscle slowly but surely got toned and stronger. Rather than passing by buildings and people and trees, I looked up and around. Curious and eager to discover the hidden things, stopping to contemplate seventies high-rises, childhood memories flooded back. I looked closer at people, their clothes, their faces, how they moved, their body language. Wanting to find out what makes them tick and get up in the morning. Why that woman thought a flowery dress was the right choice for this day.

Every time I took a photograph I liked, I immediately faced internal doom. That’s the last good picture I’ll take, that’s it. Finished. That’s all the beauty I can ever capture, there won’t be another one. Or strolling about and not seeing anything, coming back home empty handed.

But then I went out again and there it was, a man sitting by himself staring into the distance, light through trees, and I again felt that sensation of anticipation and excitement. A kind of Pavlov effect taking hold, saliva collecting in the corners of my mouth as I walked around hunting strange, beautiful and ordinary things.

I felt my sense and appreciation of colours, shapes, lines, urban life and its people being reignited. I was becoming a part of everything as opposed to being a disconnected and isolated entity.

And after a while I wasn’t just collecting visual memories of my life anymore but recorded a memory of the city, a memory for and with the person in the picture who didn’t even know s/he was in it. And that building from that angle in the sun would never be exactly the same as at the moment I looked at it.

However, when that doe-eyed Insta-honeymoon period was over, a whole world of picture-sharing madness opened up, ready to swallow me whole. It’s estimated that there are 300 million monthly active users on the app and the total posts exceed 1 billion. Which make it a Brave New World of every kind of picture from every kind of person from every part of the world.

At first I just followed my friends and a few photojournalists from Iran, Afghanistan, Georgia and Japan. Savouring the access their images gave me to parts of the world I’d never been to and cultures I knew very little about. Then slowly but surely I got sucked into the maelstrom of the sheer quantity of images on offer, emerging hours later with my head spinning, my vision blurred and eyes red from the staring. My brain had become a gaudy mash from taking in and decoding thousands of thumbnails at once.

However, I persisted, not allowing a digital app to defeat me and stayed with it. And little by little I found like-minded people in every part of the world and satisfied my curiosity about how a day in the outskirts of Mumbai went or life in a tiny Romanian village, enjoying abstract shapes and lines in Düsseldorf and peeking into a Swedish mother’s daily life.

I also discovered stunning Flemish-style still lives, Cartier-Bresson like street photography, intriguing portraits and surrealist visions on pages with tags like #dreamscape, #abstract, #sehnsucht, #minimalist and #urbanromantix.

Of course, I had to get over the curse of Instagram. Which is, Why doesn’t anybody like
my pictures? Which equals, Why doesn’t anybody like me???

And realising that world domination is highly desirable but unlikely, I resigned myself to the fact that my 300 million potential friends aren’t interested in my pictures and instead tried to get on with real life.

Did I mention my iphone monthly data allowance usually runs out after one week? The remaining 3 weeks I’m forced to pirate wifi from libraries and cafes, which of course limits my time on it. It’s a life-saver because yes, I am an addict. And it’s getting worse. And I would like to join an Instagram support group.

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