The brave new world has presented all kinds of conundrums born out of social media surveillance, Sophie White explores the latest digital dilemma
There's a whole new world order that has come about since the analog era. The importance of IRL interactions has been equalled if not supplanted by online connections and we have become a generation that now performs our lives in anticipation of chronicling our activities rather than the traditional scenario of the camera playing a secondary role after we have absorbed and enjoyed an event.
With everyone living in each other’s pocket via social media these days, we are hitting a strange level of mutual surveillance. If I meet someone I know and they start telling me about their weekend I always feel a bit creepy because of course I know all about their weekend already- I watched it practically in real time on their Insta stories.
Then naturally I begin to tell them a funny incident that happened over my weekend in the Aldi booze aisle, involving a toddler, a baby and the husband. This is when I spot a look I recognise. A cloud of hesitation stealing across their features, the same slight hesitation in their smile because – what am I thinking?!?! – they, of course, saw my post and pithy caption on my Instagram. Now, I feel as though I’m constantly self-plagiarising, trotting out the same anecdotes on every conceivable medium of communication and boring the crap out of everyone in the vicinity.
The problem of boring people is the least knotty issue that has arisen off the back of our round-the-clock self-broadcasting. The internet is awash with people making terrible, public blunders on their social media later spotted by their bosses. A Colorado teacher was fired after repeatedly posting pictures of herself smoking marijuana. Nude. Meanwhile, a nurse in New Mexico was bored at work and posted "So sleeeeepy here in the ICU. Will someone please code and give me something exciting to do?" Adding the #isthatbad to the post and a 'bored' emoji. She also took care to tag her location, thus alerting her superiors at the UNM Sandoval Regional Hospital of her state of ennui and ultimately costing her her job.
Lots of people tell me they don't accept their boss's friend requests which seems wise, though Instagram is a far more public platform where even civilians like me have open accounts and (I admit it) an insatiable appetite for selfies and confessional (read idiotic) 'stories'. As a freelancery type, I enjoy the boon of having both none and LOADS of bosses though I am lucky that at least part of my job entails some degree of guts-spilling in publications, so any Instagram guts-spilling is unlikely to shock them. However, I did experience an unnerving and oh-so 2017 incident a few weeks ago when someone whom I was scheduled to have a work meeting with started watching my Instagram stories. Not following me mind, just watching me... quietly.... at a discreet distance. It was deeply unnerving and I immediately began to censor my insta-antics ahead of our very serious meeting. Bonkers really, as a few minutes in my presence and she likely would've been subjected to far worse verbal-spew than anything I post online.
The most unlikely source of anxiety for me around engaging with Instagram has got to be my husband and childminder following me. These are the two people that I am most likely to be lying to at any given time. Lying about my whereabouts, my work schedule, my &OtherStories expenditure, anything really. Luckily the husband isn't very engaged with the stories but, Po, my minder loves it. Out of a sense of not wanting to seem like her mum monitoring her every move, I tend to not watch her stories too much, however, the system it seems does not work both ways. She is great for tuning in to my usually dull-in-the-extreme ramblings. Of course, I love Po we have the chats and get on great.
So what's the problem?
Well, like any working mother I often like to sneak off to do a bit of procrastinating and this is also usually when the urge might strike me to update my story. Obviously, I feel very guilty (all the time because I'm a mother, hello, it's our natural state) sneaking off to get my shellac or sneaking into Zara while poor Po is home being tormented by my kids. And as someone who works from home, it makes it even harder to quash the guilt when I can hear the four-year-old giving out because his last yoghurt is gone (it was me, I ate it, it's always me). Sometimes I'll be up in my office contemplating some new little gem of wit to share with my meagre following and then I'll think:
"Wait! Po can't know that I'm not working up here, even if it is only for a 10 minute Instagram break."
It has curbed my public procrastinating a lot so, in that sense, I suppose my childminder monitoring my social media account is working to my advantage: my work-avoidance is at a record low and my content has probably become marginally less tedious as a result.
She also saved me potentially profound personal humiliation there recently. I was fannying around the office working on the couch (Sidenote: A couch in an office is really not a helpful item, it is not aiding the output in any way) and I had been checking Instagram some moments before. I heard Po calling up the stairs to me and scrambled to hide the phone and get back to the desk in one clean motion.
"Yes?" I answered trying not to look too dishevelled when she popped her head around the door.
"You know you're LIVE on Instagram, Soph?"
I looked down at my phone and realised to my horror there were 18 people watching a live broadcast I had started god knows how long ago. Nightmare stuff. Who were these 18 people? What did they know? What had they seen?
I shut it off and practically wept on Po from sheer relief. No more shall I complain about her catching me procrastinating on Instagram, she is clearly saving me from myself.