I'm a better friend without Instagram Stories
Or: Why I’m done performing for myself.
Don’t worry, I’m still taking pictures of my food. —Kate
It’s been about nine months since the release of Bo Burnham’s Inside, but my TikTok FYP still serves me the occasional Burnham video or interview snippet. Recently, it resurfaced a clip from Make Happy, a special I actually saw IRL when he was on tour from 2015-2016 (which means, brag, I saw this live). This quote didn’t stick with me then, but it does now:
“They say it's the 'me' generation. It's not. The arrogance is taught, or it was cultivated. It's self-conscious. That's what it is. It's conscious of self. Social media—it's just the market's answer to a generation that demanded to perform, so the market said, here: Perform everything to each other, all the time, for no reason. It's prison. It's horrific. It's performer and audience melded together. What do we want more than to lie in our bed at the end of the day and just watch our life as a satisfied audience member? I know very little about anything. But what I do know is that if you can live your life without an audience, you should do it.”
I used to describe the pressures of social media as a performance I was putting on for some unidentified, amorphous viewer who was quick to identify my flaws. But I soon realized, if that viewer isn’t anyone I can’t point to, and I’m the only one who feels their gaze, then, surprise—that viewer is me.
How many times had I tapped through my own Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and even Facebook page, attempting to put myself in the shoes of a stranger to see if I had convincingly portrayed myself as funny, busy, thoughtful, or whatever other identity I was trying on? After hearing Burnham spell this out, the performance I had been giving seemed so obvious. Faced with the challenge of attempting to figure out how to authentically present myself on social media, I instead opted out of one of its most omnipresent features: Instagram Stories.
For me, Instagram Stories had been an IV drip of validation for the past five years, and giving myself permission to live my life not as a constant performance, but for myself, has been liberating. It also means I’m not viewing other peoples’ performances, either, which has brought another unexpected benefit: I’m a better friend.
More specifically, I feel my friendships more fully. There are several reasons for this, the most obvious being that I haven’t already been digitally following my friend’s every move before I see them on a given day. I never quite figured out how to navigate those interactions in which someone is telling you about something they also publicly documented. Do I pretend I haven’t seen it? Cut them off? One option feels like lying, the other is most certainly rude. Now I have no idea if an experience I’m hearing was already shared with the world, and the conversation is better for it.
But equally important is that my time spent with friends, something that previously felt crucial to document, is phone-free. There’s no interrupting a moment to get us on camera, nor is our time together punctuated by my frequently checking in on my social media for the latest hit of dopamine. The people are now my sense of connection, not platforms, which means I both look forward to and appreciate our time together more than perhaps ever before (certainly, the pandemic has a lot to do with this, too).
You can use social media authentically, of course. My focus here has always been about figuring out our individual relationships with these platforms. But I’ve recognized that I don’t like what Instagram Stories, specifically, brings out in me, and want to make up for the things that, for the past five years, it’s stopped me from experiencing to the fullest.