It’s so easy to turn this into a punchline, but it’s there, so I’m going to. Guys, the Times is ON IT: Instagram Envy is apparently a thing, and we are apparently falling victim to the mean green, Valencia tinted jealousy wagon in droves. In a world where pictures speak a thousand words, we use Instagram to let snapshots tell our stories. We share where we went, what we wore, what we ate, and where we ate it. We’re a visual society, and we like things to be aesthetically pleasing now more than ever. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But to be envious over the life other people seem to have? There is something wrong there. It’s like if we begin to think that our smartphones are just handheld storefronts, with our noses pressed to the glass. We are all Holly Golightly seeking solace at Tiffany in the early New York morning.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve done my share of pretentious Instagrammage. In addition to making my cat pose for my phone camera, I’ve taken pictures of my outfit du jour, a really stellar pizza, and my friend’s vintage Louis Vuitton trunk. In addition to photos of the New York skyline, there’s iced coffee, juice galore, and lots of photos of my running shoes. And while I follow Beyonce, Rihanna, and a number of fashion bloggers whose lives are far flossier than I will ever know, I still don’t feel all that envious that they’re running around with their “casual” Valentino flats in St. Barths.
Because here’s the thing: The lives our acquaintances curate through Instagram are wonderful, and they might be prettier than the cubicles in which we’re sighing wistfully and double-tapping, but that’s only one side of the story. These photos don’t show the fights our friends have with their boyfriends and girlfriends, the hour-long wait they endured to even sit at the bar of that restaurant, or the credit card bill that came with those shoes.
And no filter you choose can illustrate the fact that your cushy life is—for the most part—the result of a lot of hard work, dedication, and savvy. We choose to present the rewards without any of the sweat. If life could be as easy as our Instagrams lead us to believe. Of those thousand words, apparently the ones we tend to use least include “responsibility” and “hard work.” We want things to look effortless. Hard work isn’t chic.
Does luck play any role at all in the success that results from the work? A little, because for every jet-setting pop star, there’s a struggling waitress who sings every night, hoping that she’ll meet a record executive at one of her open mics. For every ex-pat who moved to Paris and every person who gets their passport stamped frequently for work and has an expense account, there’s another ten who have hardly ever left their hometown. And while you can choose who you follow on Instagram—and hell, you can choose to not even have Instagram at all—it’s very easy to get caught up in the glossy veneer to someone else’s life.
But by that same token, there is the ability to work hard, and to earn those creature comforts that we spend so much time lusting over. It is, of course, easiest for those who already have the means to raise their status even further, and people who can barely afford phones probably have much more pressing issues than the curation of a lot of, well, rather overpriced stuff. In the New York Times piece, Alex Williams acknowledges that “Instagram envy may constitute the most first-world of problems,” but problems almost always have their solutions.
If you want those things in the window, you can work for them. It may take time, and it will take diligence and sacrifice, but how much do you really want something if you’re not willing to work for it? Not everyone is a full-time fashion blogger, glossy hair, vintage bags, and all. And chances are, in the time it takes you to scrimp and save for one pretty thing, they’ll have amassed ten more that you suddenly want. Their lives are already avalanches; yours involves trying to get the rock up the mountain.
You can work hard, and you can earn those once-in-a-lifetime views from vacations you earned. You can save your money and move to the city of your dreams. You can treat yourself to something nice every once in a while, because you are worth a splurge here and there. And knowing you earned those things—knowing you worked and saved and really dedicated yourself to whatever it is that you wanted—will make the experience so great, you might not even want to share it on Instagram.
But you can also—and bear with me here—turn off your phone.
If you are so completely immersed in what lies on the other side of a screen, are you really immersed in your own life? We’re the people who dictate what is important in our lives, and what good does a collection of carefully curated photos do for anyone? We’re the only ones who will remember which photos of ours received more than 50 likes. We’re the only ones who regret that we didn’t crop a photo differently, or that the lighting in the restaurant was abysmal. (Martha, I’m looking at you.) Just as people let their food go cold while they hover over their brunch table composing the perfect shot, we spend the same minutes lusting over someone else’s lives when we could just as easily be enjoying our own.
So take a photo of your food, or of the winery you escaped to on the weekend. Immortalize the moment. Enjoy the wine. Laugh with friends. But save the editing and uploading for later. I’ve done this countless of times, and it’s shocking to realize how many images I actually end up not uploading because there isn’t a single filter that will convey a joy as simple and honest as actually spending time with friends. The likes can wait for later.
And you may even find out that you’d rather live in the moment instead, and save Early Bird for later.