Is Instagram turning us into a generation of show offs?

Hyacinth Bucket is an icon, a legend. The driving force of BBC’s Keeping Up Appearances, she makes sure that everyone pronounces her surname as Bouquet and not Bucket. She answers every call on her “white slimline telephone with automatic redial" with the automated response of "The Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking”, rolling her Rs as she went. Whenever her sister phones, she alerts whoever was in ear shot that  “It's my sister Violet – the one with a Mercedes, swimming pool and room for a pony”.

Harmless as Hyacinth’s boasts are, she’s essentially just showing off. And that’s what we’re doing too.

If Keeping Up Appearances ever gets a modern reboot, Hyacinth wouldn’t be shouting her mouth off to her neighbours while she was on her “white slimline telephone with automatic redial", she’d be updating her Instagram story feed with videos in other people’s homes, practically falling off a balcony to get that decadent shot.  Hyacinth makes sure that even if you aren’t directly in her vicinity, you know about her luxury items, the fabulous company she keeps and the incredible things she does in her spare time. She lives for extravagance and her husband Richard knows that even though they live comfortably, she is broadcasting a lifestyle that isn’t actually their reality. Harmless as Hyacinth’s boasts are, she’s essentially just showing off. And that’s what we’re doing too.

Photograph: Getty
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Shower of show-offs

Instagram used to be a fun place but as more people signed up to the app and camera phones improved, we started playing around with our reality to broadcast something fabulous at any given hour of the day.  I’ve heard of hiking groups extending the estimated walking time of excursions so that people have enough time to stop and create that candid shot of them standing on a cliff edge, gazing wistfully out to sea. Nature conservationists are anti-Instagram culture, with the Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board of Wyoming directly asking people to stop geotagging their photos because the influx of photo tourism is actually damaging the landscape.  Those two examples are the fun, attention-grabbing headlines that show just how ridiculous we’ve become but is Instagram culture -  and the posts we choose to make - actually turning us into a shower of show-offs?

We tune in every day to see what everyone else is up to and when we post, we’re treating our accounts like a channel and our lives are a TV show.

I was having dinner with a friend recently and we both decided that we needed to ready the time spent watching Instagram stories because it was turning into a form of self-torture. We tune in every day to see what everyone else is up to and when we post, we’re treating our accounts like a channel and our lives are a TV show. If a group of friends are in one place, you watch parties, gigs and nights out unfold from different angles. If a group of journalists or influencers are at a launch, you can see who gets guest list spots. If you’re not physically there, like Hyacinth, they’re making sure you know that they are.

Photograph: Getty
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PRs to our own social lives

When we were in primary school and party invites on fancy paper were doing the rounds, parents made sure that their kids were discreet so those who weren’t invited didn’t feel left out. All discretion is gone now. If a party is on, the world and its mother will know about it. It’s a bizarre “you can’t sit with us” approach reinforced by exclusionary things like the squad goals mentality and prevalence of WhatsApp groups and the Insta aesthetic.  We’re technically PRs to our own social lives now and even if someone chooses not to attend the event, it’s played out for them online anyway.

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It’s often joked about on Twitter that you can see how rich people really are from their Instagram feeds and in a real life case of Keeping Up Appearances it’s been reported that some people pick out holiday destinations based on their Instagrammable potential. Of course, this could all be hyperbole but it doesn’t feel wildly unrealistic. I’ve lost enough hours in my life trying to take the perfect shot for the ‘gram to know that a large portion of my life is documented for my performative online life.

I’m asking myself why I’m posting something before I actually post it. What’s the gain? What’s the purpose?

I am guilty of posting about events or holidays or parties that I feel smug about and it’s something I want to stop doing.  Knowing how awful I feel as I watch parties that I wasn’t invited to play out in real time or feeling like I’m not doing enough with my weekends when I see such jam-packed and luxurious lives play out in 15-second snippets, I’m asking myself why I’m posting something before I actually post it. What’s the gain? What’s the purpose? Am I only doing this for myself or doing it so I can tell other people about it? Am I actually just showing off?

I’m not going to scold myself for posting a thirst trap of a pic because a girl has to eat after all (can I say that…? Well, I did) or stop myself from posting photos of things that make me happy but if I’m posting an endless stream of someone else's Mercedes, swimming pools and ponies with a total lack of self-awareness. I’m going to have to reel in the Bouquet and present the Bucket I truly am instead.

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