The other day I happened upon an article titled “Posting Pictures Like Popping Molly, Millennial Addicts Need to Cool it With the Instagram: It’s time to get clean. It’s time to unfilter our lives.” I normally would not have clicked on such an article because, admittedly, I enjoy Instagram and don’t want be made to feel guilty about that fact. But, a fellow Hillsdale College graduate, Philip Wegmann, wrote the article, and since I have been feeling a bit nostalgic about my alma mater lately, I decided to give it a read.
You might be able to glean the author’s point just by the title, but I would still recommend reading the piece. I found myself wanting to agree with the author. I wanted to be able to be a bystander chastising the millennials for living life behind a lens because I truly believe that many millennials are addicted to oversharing and carefully crafting “paper” lives. But, I just couldn’t do it. I could neither fully reject nor accept his argument.
As odd as this may seem, I couldn’t accept his argument because of Hillsdale College. There is a lot to be said about Hillsdale College, but I will leave most of that to another day. What I will say is that people are able to cultivate beautiful friendships while at Hillsdale (this is most likely true of many institutions of higher education, but my experience is at Hillsdale), and there are few things in life more worthwhile than having and being a good friend. Aristotle puts forth three types of friendships within the Nicomachean Ethics (I wouldn’t be a true Hillsdale College alumna if I didn’t at least mention Aristotle once); friendships of utility, pleasure, and virtue. The virtuous friendship is, of course, the highest form of friendship. It is the type of friendship that makes a community thrive, and I think that it is this type of friendship that I witnessed and participated in at Hillsdale.
Unfortunately, I live in a different time zone from almost every friend that I made while at Hillsdale, but in many ways, Instagram has made the distance between us seem much shorter. I like to call it, the “instaship.” Through Instagram, I have come to know about the daily lives of my college friends. I see pictures of their families and their homes. I see pieces of their lives; those pieces might be a bit shinier, but I know that. And, maybe this desire to see beauty in the mundane isn’t so terrible.
“Instaships” are nowhere near as fulfilling as friendships. If the highest form of friendship is a sturdy rope, an “instaship” is a few strands of that same rope. I suppose the question is would you rather have a few strands of the best friendship or none at all? I know that I would rather cling to those few strands for as long as possible. Those strands have allowed me to remain connected to people who otherwise would have slipped through my fingers and out of reach as I drove away from Hillsdale that final day. I may not be an active participant in their lives, but I am an active observer. And maybe, someday, because of those lasting strands, circumstances will allow us to reassemble that rope and make the transition from observers to participants.
Although, I am unwilling to give up my “instaships,” I can also see the danger that Wegmann illustrates. My approach to Instagram and social media is likely the exception not the rule. I am not looking for likes, shares or follows. In fact, most of the time, I agonize over whether or not I want to post at all. When I do post, it is because I want to share a slice of my life with friends and family who are dear to me. Maybe it will make them smile to know that I too saw a beautiful sunset or was able to gather with old friends, but maybe it won’t. And, that doesn’t bother me.
Abuse of social media is commonly associated with the societal desire to be liked, to be included, to be beautiful, or even to be envied. And of all the social media platforms out there, I can see the danger that Instagram presents. Like a drug (possibly molly…), some users are unable to stop. Whether it be scrolling through photos, coming up with quippy captions, or framing the perfect photo, they choose to preserve a moment rather than to live it. And often, users go as far as to fabricate that moment. Instagram itself isn’t bad, but sometimes the way its users approach it is harmful.
Instagram offers us the opportunity to “share” photos. Share can be described a number of ways, but its use by Instagram has always brought to mind the term defined as “to divide and distribute in parts; apportion.” When, I click the “share” button, I am showing my followers a fraction of my life. It is not a true representation of my life; it is an incomplete piece. And as I enjoy my “instaships,” that is something that I strive to keep in mind.
Instagram should be used intentionally and in moderation. Molly should be avoided.
That’s All She Wrote