What Are We Doing Here, People?
I just spent half an hour watching more than 100 Instagram Stories, as I have every day for the last month of my life that feels like they last year of my life. They suck. All of them. Yet billions of people watch them every month, in an endless loop. The average episode of Stranger Things is a grain of sand compared with Instagram Stories in terms of public reach and consumption. What are we doing here, people?
This isn’t some guide on how to improve your Instagram Stories. I don’t know about the stupid templates or storytelling guides. They’re dead air to me. Besides, if you’re looking to me for help or advice, you’re so far gone that you can’t be saved. I’m a ghost-man who’s already looking forward to permanent checkout. Nothing could interest me less than your brand or persona or your persona-brand. It doesn’t matter. None of this matters. Why don’t you realize that?
Some of the kids are cute. So are some of the pets. I like looking at the nice yoga poses, I guess. But what’s with the winking heart eyes and Santa Emojis? When you post a story-photo of you and your wife with the hashtags #explorers and #lifegrabbers, am I supposed to believe you? What are you exploring? Whose life are you grabbing? Whose life is it anyway? Why does that movie of your child on a swing go backwards and forwards in slow motion?
Also, who’s this random person suddenly hosting a talk show I didn’t order? Is it Dr. Phil or Ellen? No? Then why am I watching her? And why has she festooned that un-ordered talk show with @ references to people I don’t know and dancing dollar signs?
People who I like now annoy me every day with their Instagram Stories. That’s the worst part, really. For instance, why did that guy need to post the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Rolling Stone cover with the word “YAAAAAAS” slowly unfolding in cartoon rainbow bubble letters? I know this person. He’s an adult male, not a 12-year-old girl. And that wasn’t the only AOC Rolling Stone Instagram Story I saw today. One of them had the words “Slay Kween” dancing across the screen in black gothic letters. A person spent part of their day making this. I don’t understand.
Now I will tune into my Instagram Story feed and attempt to type out what I see:
•Someone wearing headphones with cartoon tears coming out of her eyes
•An ad for Doom Patrol.
•An uncomfortably personal video of two kindergarten-ish aged girls in the bathtub with random emojis and hashtags covering their private parts.
•A joke about eating shredded cheese straight from the bag at three AM accompanied by a photo of a UFO.
•A Mason jar of broccoli accompanied by a kelly-green caption saying “This is what my daughter used to call the 44th President.”
•A Bon Appetit recipe covered by so much overlaying text that you can’t read the recipe.
•A rainbow in Geneva, Switzerland, accompanied by the caption, “a rainbow in Geneva, Switzerland.”
•A humblebraggy vacation video of a beach in Mexico.
•A photo of a little girl accompanied by the caption My Heart and a heart cartoon.
•An ad for Smart Food Popcorn
•A photo of a Republican representative at the Cohen hearings with Devil Horns and fire eyes superimposed upon his face, plus a lot of angry words that went away before I had time to read them.
•That AOC Rolling Stone cover with the words “you go girl.”
•Motivational quotes followed by a selfie of someone wearing weird clothes followed by more motivational quotes and pictures of famous people and then some more motivational quotes.
•A video of someone doing her laundry in a hotel bathroom with a cartoon multicolored dolphin in the bottom corner.
•More photos of people at the Congressional hearings made up to look like demons.
•So many commercials.
Lives For Sale
I think you can see some common threads here. First, this is all bullshit. No one cares about you except your mom. Since my mom is dead, I’m definitely not doing Instagram Stories. And if you think you’re selling yourself, you’re actually fooling yourself. Unless maybe you’re Khloe Kardashian.
Second, every other Instagram story is an actual ad. I have an idea. How about you don’t take your precious private moments of your life, slap a bunch of cheesy dancing cartoon letters on them, and sandwich them between spots for Bud Light and Cheetos? Next time, I recommend not selling that video of your precious child’s dance recital or science-fair project to the lowest bidder for free.
You’re not a brand. Your stories mean nothing, to no one. I know this because once, before any social media other than MySpace existed, I tried to turn my life into a brand. I failed, massively and completely, and I wasn’t even competing with six billion other people. My only reward was getting massively roasted by Gawker for weeks. They were cruel, but also kind of right. No one gave a shit about my life. That remains true today.
Stop trying to promote yourself, and stop trying to promote your friends. What are friends, anyway? Where are they? Why do people always seem to be having such a good time with them? I don’t know anymore, and I don’t care. But even if I did have friends, I definitely wouldn’t talk about them on Instagram Stories.
Our private moments are supposed to be private. When my father died recently, I put something up on Facebook. That was easier than calling 125 people on a day when I really didn’t feel like using the phone. But I didn’t perform my grief on Stories with a lachrymose soundtrack while putting a sad panda filter over my face. You know that’s not an exaggeration. We’ve all seen it, that performative grief that that vanishes like a puff of Juul in the parking-lot ether.
Inspiring Inspirational Moments That Inspire Us
Self-promotion is one thing. We really have little choice in a world where jobs don’t actually exist. But Instagram Stories also appears to be about self-improvement. Half of this feed that I never asked for is comprised of “inspiring tweets” or quotes from Rumi or paragraphs from novels that I have to squint to read. Why do we all have to inspire one another all the time? Inspiration should be left to Martin Luther King, Jr., Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and people who you actually see, know, and respect on a daily basis. If I’m using Instagram Stories to rev the personal-meaning engine, I might as well be rummaging for useful aphorisms through my neighbor’s trash.
Of all the Instagram Stories I watched this week, I liked one. My friend Katie took a video of her toddler son trying to do a 3-D puzzle while her elderly dog walked among the pieces. It felt real and amusing and contained no hashtags or headlines or winking unicorns. She didn’t try to sell me anything or anyone. Watching it didn’t make me feel uncool or make me think she was uncool. It was just a dorky old dog and a baby and now it’s gone. Of course, I could have just gone over to her house, one of the few places on Earth where I’m actually welcome, and seen the same thing. And that’s maybe why I liked the story.
Lord help me, I just saw an Instagram Story of an airplane wing with the words “Bye Milan” written in cursive across the wing. Oh, were you in Milan? Good for you! How very wonderful!
Also, who are you? Why are you in my feed? I don’t care. About you. Or your story.
*Wink emoji, funny eyebrow filter, dancing unicorn, #HERO*