The Instagram Funhouse Mirror

I have an account on almost all social media, but the only social media I regularly use are Instagram and Strava. I've mentioned both of them on the blog before, but I'll say it again. I use Strava because it is very inspiring and motivating; it makes me want to work out more when I see all the fun workouts other people are doing; it makes me want to run faster when I see how fast everyone else is running. Strava is great fun. I use Instagram because seeing nice photographs of beautiful people having lots of fun makes me happy; it makes me also want to go out and have fun. In fact, I like it so much that I created my own hashtag over it: #havefuntakephotos. This hashtag represents the whole reason I like Instagram. If we all spent more time having fun and taking photos of the fun we were all having, the world would be a better place. I just love it.

Participating in all the fun we're having on Instagram, however, is not as easy as it sometimes appears to be. If, like me, you follow a lot of famous people and "influencers," then you're likely to see many several photographs per day that you'd be lucky to snap in two weeks' time. There's a reason for this: famous people and professional "influencers" invest an enormous amount of time, and often a substantial amount of money, in creating content for their Instagram accounts. It's no mere coincidence that models and actresses are always photogenic and ready with a winning smile several times a day. What the viewer is seeing is often a professionally shot photograph, perhaps an outtake from a paid photo shoot, or a photo taken  months ago in ideal conditions, but only posted today.

Like anything else, you must view Instagram while maintaining the suspension of disbelief. There are only two possibilities: Either a person's life is not really what it looks like on Instagram, or the person has enough wealth to dedicate all that time and money to turning their life into an Instagram account. Either way, you, the average person, are not capable of producing the same kind of content on your own Instagram account unless and until you become a millionaire and/or hire a professional to create content for you.

This is all perfectly obvious, of course, but it became more obvious to me when I undertook the seemingly simple task of posting a photo of every workout I completed from the beginning of my 16-week half marathon training schedule to the end. I'm on week #11, and I haven't come anywhere close to posting one photo per workout. One reason is because I don't like to run with my phone (which is also my camera) strapped to me at all times. I'd rather leave my phone home and pick it up again when my workout is over. And when I'm in a rush to get to work or something, I don't always want to invest the extra five minutes in thinking up a clever Instagram concept-shot, figuring out how to snap it, and then posting it on the internet for all to see.

But the more important reason is this: If I posted a photo of what really happens during my workout, then every photo would look almost exactly the same. The photos would all be along similar routes and landscapes. I have about a week's worth of running clothes, so you'd only ever see me in one of seven shirts. I most often take photos right in front of my house, or from the parking lot outside of work, so you'd only really ever see the same two spots over and over again. I could post photos of other stuff - like, the locker room in my gym, or my blender bottle, or the treadwear on my running shoes - and sometimes I do; but I can only really post so many photos of that.

The point is, when you start cataloging life as it actually is, rather than as we would like it to look on Instagram, then it starts to look very repetitive and uninteresting. Granted, my own life might be a bit more routinized than other peoples' lives, but I suspect not by a wide margin. I think most of us do more or less the same things every day. Think of how many bowls of chopped papaya Milind Soman has posted on Instagram. If I followed his lead, you'd see a bowl of oatmeal in my "Stories" each and every day. I don't know, maybe I should do that, but who wants to stare at my bowl of oatmeal? Even I don't look very closely at it while I'm eating it.

Life - real life - is repetitive and, at least in photos, largely uninteresting. That's why our grandparents only ever took photos when the family got together at holidays. The rest of the time, who cares? Would you want to see a photo of your grandpa smiling into the camera from the driver's seat as he headed off to work? Maybe once, and only for ironic reasons. You certainly wouldn't have wanted to go through a box of that stuff when it was time to clear up his estate.

In the funhouse mirror of Instagram, beautiful people appear to be living beautiful lives, but in reality they just have very good photographers and publicists who ably present the Vanity Fair version of their lives. You don't see the daily bowl of cereal, the commute to work, the business emails and the paperwork, the license renewals, the dental floss, or the trip to the grocery store. You don't see the standing in line or the waiting in the airport lounge, you don't see the second cup of tea and the mindless internet scrolling. You don't see the 25,000 steps I took while running last Sunday, even if you did see my post about going for a long run. You don't see the laundry or the dishes.

Instead, you just see the fun parts. It's nice to see all the fun parts, but it's important to remember that, when you're scrolling through a long newsfeed full of nothing but fun parts, there were hours' worth of banalities that lead up to that photograph, and those banalities were not often worth however many "likes" the photo got.

It's fun to see this stuff, but it is definitely not reality.

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