On Instagram, content, and experiences.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this website, and if you’re here expecting a review of a new pub or hot take on a beery event, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. I might still post the odd beer-related thing here and there, but in future the content of this site is going to be a lot more varied.

Over the past week or so I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship with creating and sharing social media content, particularly in the context of my own use of Instagram. My phone died on Monday morning and being without one for the past five days has actually been strangely freeing. Not that I’ve particularly enjoyed being difficult to contact (! she lied), but it’s given me a new perspective regarding what, and when, I have felt compelled to post on social media.

I’ve found myself constantly wanting to take photos of things and share them but being unable to: yarn-bombed trees standing vibrant yellow and pink against Manchester drizzle, old books stuffed onto a shelf at the back of a packed charity shop, jewel-toned graffiti spotted through gaps between grey buildings. It’s strange how automatic the urge is. ‘Oh, I like that, I had better take a photo and put it on Instagram.’

Recognising that compulsion, to turn something into an image and upload the picture so people can ‘like’ it, has made me take a deeper look at the things I’ve wanted to photograph. Why do I feel the need to share this? What exactly do I appreciate about it? What value will others find in seeing a picture of it as they scroll through their Instagram feed? I began to wonder how much of what I experience is wrapped up with the anticipation of sharing it with other people.

The urge to post photos of what I see, and what I do, seemed to always be lurking at the back of my mind. I just didn’t quite recognise it until I was forced to break the habit. It’s practically an unconscious process at this point. See nice thing. Point. Click. This has the tendency to keep us at a remove from reality, mentally framing everything as potential ‘content’, whether for particular projects or just a personal social media account. We don’t need to be actively observing things through a phone screen to be separated from the world. For some of us, the mindset of ‘creating content’ for social media has already brought about that separation within our own selves.

Being prevented from quickly and easily snapping and sharing pictures has been immeasurably interesting for me. It’s given me the unfamiliar sense that my experiences have been mine, and mine alone. The little weirdnesses I notice every day have somehow meant more, now that I’m not subconsciously measuring their value by how many little hearts they’ll earn on a social media website.

I had a similar feeling a while before my phone properly stopped working; I was in a lovely, picturesque place, but, for various reasons, had made the decision to avoid taking photos that day. We’d gone for a walk, and I’d usually have been stopping every few minutes to photograph this great view, that belligerent sheep, this tree that looks like a monster… If you’ve ever hung out with me, you’ll know that I’m constantly documenting my surroundings. This time I chose not to, and I was shocked by how much more engaged I felt. I’d never realised quite how much I take myself out of experiences in that way. Despite my best intentions, I did get my phone out during that walk with the aim of taking a photo – of somebody else who was in the process of taking a picture on their phone. That probably says something, but I’m not quite sure what!

No doubt it would have been nice to have photos from that day, as it was a beautiful area, but the fact that I don’t have that option has actually had another unexpected benefit. It’s prompted me to write things down, instead.

The interesting thing when writing about a landscape is that as you get the words down on paper, more memories emerge about what you felt when you were in that environment; things you’d forgotten, like the way a stone felt under your foot, or how the wind bit at your cheek. The whole experience becomes more real and vital than if you were looking at a photo you’d cropped and filtered and uploaded to be ‘liked’. You don’t just get to look at the view again; you get to feel it.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t take photos or use Instagram. Of course I’m not! Photography, and looking at pictures, is a pleasure. It can also be important and valuable. For example, I’m a big believer in the concept of the selfie as a way of shaping your presence within the world. We have always created self portraits, after all, and how people choose to represent themselves is a fascinating topic. People might sneer at selfies, but why should the act of self portraiture become less worthy just because it’s now widely accessible? Arguably, curating one’s Instagram feed is just another way of showing the world how you want to be seen, and how you see yourself. But that’s a discussion for another time.

For me, these few days without a phone have been eye-opening. It’s reminded me that, if I want to share something that’s important to me, I should consider doing so in words, rather than pictures – if for no other reason than that it’s a more rewarding experience for me personally. I engage with things more deeply that way, and posting a quick photo on Instagram can be a bit of a cop out for me. But that’s just who I am, and it’s because words are what I love. If I was a photographer, or a painter, or a musician, I might be working on a piece to convey my frustration with the allure of Twitter!

This is not to say that I won’t be back using Instagram as soon as I get a new phone. Of course I bloody will. I enjoy seeing what my friends post, and I do like taking photos (especially of myself, as you will know if you’ve ever seen any of my social media accounts). But it has made me reconsider my own individual relationship with Instagram, and realise that not everything needs to automatically be photographed and uploaded in order to ‘count’.

Maybe sometimes it’s OK for a view from a hill to just belong to you.

If you did come here hoping for beery stuff and you’ve still read all the way to the end of this, thank you! And just so you know, after that walk I went to the pub and had three pints of Abbeydale Moonshine (4.3%). As usual, it was fucking GREAT.

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