In a generation defined by social media, Instagram is consistently criticized for presenting false ideals and projecting dishonesty. There is certainly some validity to this when it comes to the more superficial forms of curation. Highly edited FaceTuning, socially appropriate followers/following ratios, flattering filters and Instagram “influencers” shape body image and societal standards to an unattainable degree.
But perhaps it is more accurate to say that Instagram is not necessarily dishonest, but that it only reveals a part of the truth – the part of ourselves that we choose to show. This is not inherently problematic either: the curation of our profiles and feeds can also be a creative process and even a form of personal expression. It marks what we think deserves to be photographed, what deserves our attention.
An Instagram-worthy photo might be a night out with friends, an especially good-looking plate of food or a contemplative back shot at a museum. Our late-night cramming for exams, dining hall meals and classes usually don’t make the cut. Thus, most of our lives are excluded from the images we reveal to the world.
This self-editorializing may, however, add value to the Instagram experience. How many of us actually want to see the trivial and mundane details of life? I’m not particularly interested in seeing what you’ve had for lunch if it was just from the Med Deli line at the bottom of Lenoir. We reserve Instagram for the special things – celebration, activism, inspiration and beauty.
Personalized advertising also allows us to filter what appears on our feed, reflecting how we want to see the world. On the Explore page, you can tap on the photos you find more interesting so that Instagram’s algorithm kicks in and shows you similar content. I’ve tailored my account so that it shows me mostly pictures of food, art and photography, but I’m not immune to the algorithm throwing in the occasional random pug photo.
The problem we’re presented with is differentiating between real life and our manicured version of it. Curation isn’t toxic until it becomes mistaken for reality.
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