CURATING THE PERFECT IDENTITY ONLINE IS EASY
Just be as selfish as you possibly can.
BY JAMES ROYCE
There’s a thing I’ve been doing on Instagram for a bit of time now that I’ve told is “erratic” and “genuinely confusing.” It goes like this: I apply this disco filter number to some random photo, throw a bit of music on there, then upload that finished product to my story. That’s it. The photo is always something I found either cool or interesting or hilarious or all of the above. A cool soccer jersey, anything involving the fashion of or costume design in the two-time Emmy Award winning show for Outstanding Drama Series, “The Sopranos.” The odd picture of a good piece of bread. That sort of thing. Song’s always whatever I was listening to that morning. Or woke up repeating in my head. The disco filter is there because it’s the only decent story filter on Instagram. Anyway I do this two-to-four times a day, every day. The only thing that’s consistent about it is the act of me doing it. Well, that and the disco filter. But that’s it.
Different people have brought this up to me in actual conversation and they all just say the same thing: Why? “Why, do you do that,” they ask. “I don’t quite understand it.” Because I like to do it. It’s something I like to do. Like, yes, I know that sounds juvenile and lazy and a way for me to get out of explaining this is just something I do because I like to do it and that’s it. That’s why I post Really Trash Content on Instagram, okay? Like you don’t, you know, have to watch my story right? I mean you don’t even have to keep following me in the first place and you know that, right? Anyway I usually just say back: I don’t know. Then I walk away to avoid more useless small talk.
Anyway that's all gotten a bit maddening and has me asking myself this: why do I even bother going out pleasing people at all.
And that’s the thing, right? Instagram, Twitter, whatever. They’re all complex apps with their own respective advantages and disadvantages, yeah, but also like they’re all about the same thing. And that thing is: pleasing people. And rewarding you for doing so. Not to get all your-freshman-boyfriend-who-smoked-too-much-weed-especially-compared-to-the-rest-of-his-dorm about it but that’s about it.
Timed landscape photo of the sun dipping beneath cerulean waters at some “Better Than Where You Are” beach? Hell yes, get it up there. Feeling yourself in a new pair of boardies or bikini and just know you look hot? That thirst trap should’ve been on my feed yesterday, mate! Fancy bowl of ravioli served on one of those white plates with the green trim around the edges? Yes, yes, and yes turn your flash on for this then get it on the story. This how you get likes and followers and it’s a formula for success because the average user can appreciate this shit as it works more often than not.
But also, like, no. One: just because you’re spending a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re not basic. Two, and much more importantly: What pleasure are you, personally, gaining from that? The answer is none. You’re not quite gaining anything.
Think: who are the worst people on the planet? You’re correct, arguably the worst people on the planet are anyone with a sincere opinions about general interest content. Nazis: yes, bad. Dictators: bad. People who set public buildings on fire: bad. Anyone who knows one thing too many about user-friendly grid layouts: awful, terrible, the worst. Who would you rather get locked in a cell with? The Zodiac Killer who, by the way, in this situation has been given loads of knives. Like, loads and loads. All the knives. And a gun. We’ve finally found one of the most notorious serial killers of all time and decided it’d be best to fully arm him. So, yeah, that’s an option. Or there’s a lad called, I don't know, Austin who recently was the first to comment a formatted quote from a topical meme on, like, one of Complex’s posts and he won’t stop telling you about how much traction he picked up from it. The Zodiac Killer. Or Austin. Answer honestly.
What do you actually gain from posting something that? Has anyone, ever, gained any genuine pleasure from something like that. Like, has anyone ever said to someone who does that: "Oh hell yes, we’ve got a Nice Thing Liker here. This person really knows the difference between pastels and grayscale and knows when to use the right one. I bet they have the tidiest Pinterest board filled with both tasteful and topical photos." Have those sentences ever been said in earnest? No, those sentences have never been said in earnest. Ever.
So what’s stopping you from then, you know, not doing that? Nothing. You know that right? And, like, you'll be able to avoid that existential dread that comes from finding yourself at the doorstep of a celebrity Instagram post doing so. You know the one, when there's thousands of comments and millions of likes, and you are like: I need to be the first to comment here but I can't because I am an ant. An insignificant ant. They do not know if I am alive or dead.
In fact, it wouldn’t be the worst idea if you started pleasing just yourself online for a change. Present yourself as however you see fit and realize you don’t have to satisfy everyone’s needs or wants in the name of well-rounded, well-liked content.
For example: bang into showing off your daily outfits from that corner of your room where the light is good? Great, post that. Love socialist modern architecture, particularly old photos from Yugoslavian design books? Amazing, throw it all up there. Just a burnt beach guy that still utters a literal, “Phoar,” at the every other surf photo? Sick, share it with the world. If there's something you like doing or you genuinely derive pleasure from then go for it. Make the caption whatever you want, too. Seriously, it really makes no difference. No one cares if you make a topical Game of Thrones pun or not.
Even if you like what's considered “lame” or even “generic” to the rest of world then you should post it. Like, if I see a picture of someone wearing whatever floral-print shirt and linen-pants combination at The LA West Side’s Hottest Daytime Bar with two lads who look like they say the word “ha ha ha” instead of actually laughing and pay twelve actual American dollars for a Modelo tall boy I should think one thing. And that thing is: this person, the poster, likes to do this. That’s why they’re uploading it and sharing it now, with me. This is what they enjoy in life and that is what they think they should share it with their followers.
What do you expect to get in return from posting that generic “please everyone” nonsense anyway? A DM from the local celebrity or entrepreneur or whatever that says: ”James”? An imaginary scenario where this delicately moves into my "Other" inbox, this. “James. I see you hanging out with people at the most popular bar in your city, which: nice. And those likes, lots of them! That is the exact thing someone can do to make me notice their existence. Let’s do business together and make money and be absolute best friends.” Of course I agree and then say, “Thank you, Instagram," as a single tear drops onto my backlit screen. “Thank you for gifting me an amazing opportunity because I posted photo tailored just to gather likes. Thank you, thank you.” But no, that doesn’t happen. That has never happened. Ever.
So then why do we do it? Why do we bother pleasing everyone else online? We shouldn’t, should we? No, we shouldn’t. The only person you should be out to please on Instagram or Twitter or whatever is yourself. You have the tools at your disposal to tailor an image or presentation of yourself in front of you. To forge an identity you see fit. Why not, I don’t know, use them? There’s nothing worse than going to an Instagram account thinking you know what to expect and then being right about it. You don’t want to be that predictable person.
Besides, is there anything you can really lose from doing this? Like, if you throw up a photo that uses an odd filter and isn’t posed or framed right but you like it so that’s why you upload it is anyone going to actually care? Same goes for Twitter. No one’s telling you you have to tweet out your own custom reiteration of whatever new meme format is floating around for likes and retweets. It’s not like your followers are going to pick and pick and pick at you until you collapse mentally and tweet out more inane shit. There’s just you. You’re the only one doing that. You only have to answer to you.
People who do their own thing create the best content, is the thing. It’s why “favorite accounts” on Twitter and Instagram exist in the first place. Being unique and having a point of difference leads to dedicated followers, no matter how niche you might be. It’s why accounts like @AccidentalWesAnderson and @GramParents and @shittynewyorkercartooncaptions have the followings they do. Did accounts like these and others become popular by pleasing people? No, they did because they did their own thing. Just like they’ve always done. And should and more than likely will continue doing.
I’ll leave you here with this: go to the most generic account on Instagram you follow right now. Something with a massive follower count. Look at that content. Strong chance it looks revolting. Same layout, same pose, same tints and hues as everyone else. Yeah, it might have over two-thousand likes per photo. But also: I wonder if these people are happy, you know? Genuinely happy posting things like this. I bet, deep down, they’re not. And if they are then I bet they’re the type to go home everyday after their Five O’Clock Post (high traffic hours), make a little aesthetically pleasing rice and veggie bowl and think: nothing. I bet they think nothing. Because if likes and follows and following a formula to achieve those things derives genuine pleasure then, I’m sorry, you must have so little synaptic firings going on up in your head that you are so truly basic that you can never be deeply, truly unhappy. So you’re either that, or a massive sad lad. And you shouldn’t be any of those things.
Moral of the story? Well, the moral of the story is post what you want. Followers will either love it or not mention anything of it. Stop bothering yourself with pleasing everyone. It isn’t a massive secret that the coolest people in the world are those who find a passion or style or vibe that they like and lean into it. What’s stopping you from doing the same, then? Nothing. Post what you want. Be selfish. Make your identity just that: yours.