Performance And Privacy on Instagram — And How That Can Affect Your Mind
New Year’s Eve is probably one of the better nights for influencers to do their influencing. There is both the party lane and the new-year-new-you lane, and most of the best of influencers are either paragons of extravagance or asceticism. December 31st and January 1st have built in opportunities for each type to do what they do best: indulge or improve.
I spent New’s Year Eve staring at a fluorescent-lit board of scuffed dry wall that’s blocking some construction project in LAX’s international terminal on my way to a yoga retreat in Tulum which I undertook in order to become a saner, calmer person in 2018, or at least for week one of 2018. I didn’t Instagram anything from that night or from my time in Mexico, partially because we post our best selves & our best experiences on Instagram (and an airport is no place for bests of any kind), and partially because I’ve halfway bought into the idea that private people are virtuous, and I am nothing if not chasing virtue.
There’s a lot of support for the idea that human beings are naturally intact, and that through too much exposure to a public they can be broken. In many parts of the world, it’s a common superstition that to allow yourself to be photographed is something like having part of your soul stolen by the camera, by the photographer, by the photograph’s viewers. Celebrities cite something similar all the time when they’re on talk shows explaining why they won’t discuss their romantic relationships or reveal the name of their newborn child: they want to keep some part their lives for themselves. And then there are all of the mildly pejorative think pieces (usually penned by members of older generations) implying that millennials are bad news because of their oversharing. It’s all part of the equation of selling out.
But for every one of those points there’s an obvious hold-on-a-second. In most parts of the world, as soon as a person learns what a camera does, they learn to pose for it; these are the same celebrities who are famous for being in movies, singing on stages, winning games in front of tens of thousands of people; these writers are perfectly comfortable sharing their opinions, knowledge and pedigree with the reading public. We’ve all got a pretty strong performative impulse in us. Privacy is in part denial, a version of selling ourselves short.
Still, to me, putting on any kind of show for any kind of audience is shameful, so I’ve tailored all parts of my personal style/conduct to cover up both the impulse and the shame. I am obsessive about self-representation. To that point, I don’t untag Facebook photos on principle because I don’t want to appear vain. (Meta, no?) My Instagram account is no exception; in fact, it might be a shining example of how I go about being a person. Granted, I know myself (& so, I know exactly what to look for), but when I look through my own feed I see someone who hates that she loves attention.
Pick a user, study their feed & their behavior on Instagram for a month or two, and I’d be shocked if you didn’t learn something about the line they draw between performance & privacy. Captions, composition, geotags, timestamps, filters, subject matter and tone are plenty to read into. We know quite a bit about them. (Considering, it’s not so surprising that we trust influencers as sources.) It’s not just me who, despite my best efforts, inadvertently demonstrates something very true about myself through my Instagram account and usage, through the way I hide in plain sight.
Is your Instagram profile on public or private? Why have you chosen your settings as they currently appear? Tell us below in the comments!