When I was little, I loved disposable cameras. I loved everything about them, from the whine of the charging flash to the hollow click of the shutter button to the anticipation that came from waiting for that magical phone call. Hello, this is the Wal-Mart photo center. Your film has been developed and is ready for pick-up.
Most of all, though, I loved the finished product, being able to hold in my hands little snapshots of my past (and by past, I mean my two weeks ago, because that’s an eternity to a seven-year-old). These photos were proof that I had done something, but more importantly, they were perfect time capsules of the things I loved. My favorite things in life were among my most popular photography subjects, and those nice little photo packs were often filled with pictures of my room, my toys, and my parents from unflattering angles. It was important to me then, just as it is now, to be able to capture these things so I could always remember them.
It’s a habit I never outgrew, only instead of a green Fujifilm and a photo album, I’m armed with an iPhone and an Instagram account, connected with millions of other time capsulers just trying to share, commemorate, and create while the world tells us we’re wrong.
People these days are too caught up in social media. Why don’t you just eat your food? Nobody wants to look at that. Living behind your camera means you aren’t living life. Unplug, be authentic, blah blah blah. Instagram is ruining society!!
These are all arguments I’ve heard or read recently. Condemning social media users for using social media isn’t a new phenomenon—for as long as there has been Twitter, there have been people tweeting about how 140 characters will lead to the downfall of society—but it’s a phenomenon that definitely should have gone away by now. Hello and welcome to the 21st century. Social media is what we do.
Lately, though, I’ve been noticing a surprisingly large amount of criticism towards Instagram and, more specifically, its snap-happy users. By stopping to take pictures of life as it happens, many argue, we are effectively not living life. We’re simply letting stuff happen for the sake of a double-tap, slapping pretty filters on ordinary things to make our friends (or followers, because in this argument, do we even have friends? is anything we do real? or are we existing solely in the context of pixels and apps?) jealous of the exciting lives we lead.
And, okay, maybe. Maybe that is what some of us are doing. But here’s the thing: why do we care? If you don’t like Instagram, the answer’s simple: don’t use it. If you think living authentically means throwing your camera into the lake and only remembering your youth when you’re old through hazy, distorted, embellished memories, cool. Good for you. Do whatever makes you happy. But some of us (myself included) want to remember things visually, with those little moments in time called pictures, and we want to share these things with our friends just as we want to be able to get little glimpses into their lives, to see their moments in time.
Instagram has never kept me from living my life. I’ve never spent an hour trying to choose a filter. I’ve never missed an opportunity by being too concerned with good lighting. (Maybe other people have, and again, that’s their decision. If that’s how they want to live their life, more power to them. It’s not my place—or yours!—to tell them how to live.) What Instagram has done is given me a place to showcase my best moments in time, to take control of my image and shape how society sees me, to highlight what’s important to me, and to share and explore my friends’ lives. It’s also given me the opportunity to peek into the lives of famous people, of companies I admire, of ordinary people living ordinary lives on the other side of the planet, and if you don’t think that’s pretty darn cool, then I don’t know what to tell you.
So no, I don’t think Instagram is ruining my life or your life or the life of the tween girl posting selfies she’ll cringe at in two years or the life of the guy taking pictures of his dinner because it just looks good and he wants to, okay? If anything, Instagram—and social media as a whole—is enriching our lives with new opportunities to connect, new platforms on which to be creative, and new ways to capture the world. If you don’t like it, that’s your business.
But if you’ll excuse me, I have a life to go live. And you can bet you’ll see a picture of it later.