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Don't Call My Use of Instagram Frivolous & Vain
Critics chide Millennials for gluing themselves to their phones. They nag us for using social media and say we undervalue face-to-face communication and real life relationships. While I agree that everyone should consider the role social media plays in their lives, I strongly disagree that social media serves little to no purpose. Instagram alone has proven to be a key part of how I record, organize, and distribute visual information. It is my visual diary, my art gallery, and a social space with personal and professional implications. Calling my use of Instagram frivolous and vain fails to acknowledge my use of Instagram as a tool. It is also reductive, sexist, and, frankly, boring.
Instagram functions as my visual diary in a way that nothing else does. I have a traditional diary where I put down personal thoughts. I also have a success journal where I note personal triumphs and room for improvement. I even have an inspiration journal where I collage quotes, photos, magazine clippings, and other materials to inspire my art, writing, and creative thinking. So I've got the paper diary thing down. But Instagram functions on ways that my paper diaries do not. It allows me to record where I've been and what I've seen, either in real time or after an experience. I can photograph whatever I like and I do. I photograph books I've read, architecture I love, art I've seen, crafts made by friends, cakes baked by my husband, and more. I'm just as likely to post on an average day living in Brooklyn as I am when I'm traveling domestically or abroad. I sometimes post photos with observations or reflections. Other times, I simply post with an emoji that captures how I'm feeling. The captions are first and foremost for me, just as any diary entry should be.
I count selfies as part of my visual diary, too. While a degree of self-centeredness is inherent to any kind of self-portraiture, taking Instagram selfies doesn't mean you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Sometimes I take a selfie because I like how I look that day, which is a small radical act in a society that constantly tells women to hate their bodies. Sometimes I take a selfie because I'm trying out a new look and want feedback from friends and family on my hair or make-up. Sometimes I take a selfie because I want to record the memory of being in a specific place at a specific time and there's no one else to take my picture. Maybe I'm traveling somewhere new. Maybe I've accomplished something professionally or academically and want documentation of it. Maybe I'm simply happy to be alive because mental health is fragile and precious. My life and my experiences matter. They do not matter any less because I am a younger woman, Millennial or otherwise.
I refer back to my Instagram to double-check all kinds of life events: when I took a trip, what I ordered at a restaurant, what a friend wore on a special occasion, etc. Using Instagram in this way allows me to confirm all types of facts, whether for myself or when communicating with others. And in this age of #FakeNews, that matters. I want to be certain and I don't want to misinform others. Often when we recall a personal memory, we get facts wrong. This isn't necessarily because we're lying or want to lead others astray. We just can't get everything right all the time. Instagram is one of my regular corroborators.
Instagram is my art gallery, as well. I maintain an artist Instagram account to document my process, show finished work, and post pictures from events (readings, screenings, exhibitions, etc.) Often I will combine my art and writing in interdisciplinary publishing projects, films, videos, and installations that tend to be complex. It's important for me to keep my references, process shots, and documentation organized. The art gallery helps me see how I've grown and where I find inspiration. My artist Instagram even provides me with a professional platform for my work. I regularly send clients direct links to Instagram posts when discussing specs for a project or showing them evidence of my accomplishments. New clients find me because of Instagram, whether through my personal account or my artist account. I've even found and applied to publishing, exhibition, festival, and scholarship opportunities because of Instagram. Publishers and curators have reached out to me through Instagram or I've responded to their Instagram posts. That makes Instagram part of my career.
Instagram is one of my social spaces. I no longer live near my family or childhood friends, so Instagram helps us keep in touch (in addition to phone calls, email, etc.) Instagram allows me to keep in touch with local friends, as well. Sometimes we find each other because of our Instagram posts; we realize we're in the same neighborhood or at the same event and get to meet up because of it. I make new friends and acquaintances through Instagram, too. I've definitely bonded with other Instagram users over art, literature, architecture, and feminism. Instagram is just another outlet for emotional connection and idea exchange. It should not be the sole outlet, but it's definitely made a lasting impact on my personal relationships.
While Instagram is fun, it's not totally frivolous and vain. It can serve many practical purposes, such as the ones I've mentioned. I hope others can relate to my uses of Instagram or even try using Instagram in a new way. But even if that doesn't happen, I will continue using Instagram because using Instagram is my choice. In a society that limits too many of my choices as a younger woman already, I am eager to make and define my choices.
Follow me on Instagram @christine.stoddard and @artistchristinestoddard. Don't forget to follow Quail Bell on Instagram, too: @quailbellmag.
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