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Don't Tell, Don't Show
The unbearable lightness of using Instagram in quarantine
Maybe I was being unnecessarily introspective. But this debate is not mine alone. It's playing out in text messages, Instagram DMs and private Slack channels. Posting on Instagram has always been a self-conscious exercise. We curate the version of ourselves that we want other people to see, trained by an app designed to reward us with followers. Pre-pandemic, Instagrammers were posting aspirational, optimistic, escapist content. Now users are telling me their self-consciousness has shifted to empathy—or is it anxiety?—over the current national crises and the reaction that their posts might spark.
One friend told me she recently went outdoors with a group, but only posted a picture with her partner, so as not to raise concern. Another debated whether to take a mask off for the sake of a picture, or to leave it on to demonstrate proper behavior. Francisco Branco, a resident of Lisbon, Portugal, told me on Twitter that he still posts when he's out, but makes sure to demonstrate proper social distancing, "to remind people that it's necessary to continue to follow the rules."
This resonates with me as well. Whereas it used to be fun and carefree to post on Instagram, I’ve been posting less and less because I worry about the signals each post is sending. Am I enjoying life a little too much in quarantine? While others are sick and dying? Why am I not wearing a mask? Why am I outside?! Etc.
Instead, I now tend to post more to Instagram Stories restricted to “Close Friends” (which I basically just use as a lightweight filter if I’ve ever met or know a person). Those who perhaps know me a bit and are likely to be less judgy.
It’s also worth noting that Frier literally wrote the book on Instagram (I’m in it, from my reporting days). And it’s not like she’s turning against the network. Just pointing out something I think a lot of us are feeling in our complicated new world.