Every week, it seems there’s a new article on Instagram life vs. real life or 15 pictures no one wants to see on Facebook. There are studies on how many times per week you should post, and last time I checked, there was even an app to convert pictures of babies in your newsfeed to pictures of something random (for those of you who are anti-baby–though I doubt you’re still reading this blog if you dislike pictures of babies). There are the people who say that you should only post photos X number of times a week or X number of your dog. There are people who say they are tired of sunset pictures or pictures of your morning coffee or any number of things.
In a world where there’s no clear Emily Post of the internet, we’re scrambling to make up black and white rules, to follow some sort of etiquette online. We want to be doing it “right”–be be correctly handling this world of social media and blogging and all those other terms that weren’t around twenty-five years ago. And sometimes we make up rules so that we can justify our particular use of a platform.
But these tools are all relatively new, and there’s no clear set of rules, nor should there be. Here’s why I can’t complain about how you use social media (and why I wish others would stop, as well!):
- I don’t have to follow you/friend you. I can unfriend people if their statuses become too frequent or they take too many pictures of whatever I don’t like. We shouldn’t be afriad of unfriending people or being unfriended. It happens in real life all the time. If my acquaintance is primarily a work acquaintance who only talks about her dog, I probably choose not to hang out with her in everyday life. That’s okay. There are levels of friendship. You can post what you want because no one obligates me to see it–or to even use that particular platform. In one sense, social media is public–I need to think carefully about what I post. But in another sense, there are privacy settings as well as some personal choice involved in what I–or you–follow.
- You get to decide how you use each platform, and there are plenty of acceptable ways. Some people see Instagram as a place to keep memories, while others use it to showcase a particular obsession. Some people use their Facebook to update family far away; some people use their Facebook only for stalking. The way you use social media is up to you. Your needs will probably change, and the way you use a platform (or which ones you use) might, too. My way–though I carefully think it through–is not the only way or the best way.
- I need to see happy pictures. When we fill up our family photo albums, we choose to include happy pictures. We’re selective, and there’s a reason for that. Though we can now take pictures of every part of our lives and see them instantly, it doesn’t mean we necessarily should. I’m smart enough to realize that your happy pictures don’t show all that is going on in your life. If I don’t realize this, I might not have the maturity to be using social media. I love seeing my newly-married friends’ pictures of their new apartments. I love seeing my single friends’ classrooms or desks at work. I love seeing new babies and older kids. Post what you want, and please continue to include the happy and the beautiful. I need reminders to see the beauty in the tree outside my house or in the sleeping face of your child. Don’t let the cynics stop you!
- I might even need to be jealous. I love this concept. Grace Bonney has a podcast episode where she talks about the positive side of jealousy. She explains that jealousy can be a tool to show you what you really want. In this sense, a healthy level of jealousy can reveal your own desires and maybe even motivate you. Some nights, I feel discouraged about the state of the house. An Instagram picture of a tidy home or delicious meal might, at first, make me feel jealous. But plenty of times, it has been the motivation I needed to try a new recipe or read more or keep my house cleaner. And if it’s too much, see #1.
- I have the freedom to dislike (and you do, too!). Occasionally, I will probably create a hashtag you think is cheesy. Sometimes I may wonder why you chose to post a particular photo. You may think I post too many pictures of my child while I reserve that trophy for someone with twice as many. It’s okay. I occasionally do this with the friends I see often. I may think, “Why did she choose to wear those pants?” But it’s not a big deal. We move on. Don’t be scared to post something because of people’s judgment.
You choose how to present yourself to the world both in “real life” and on social media. In fashion, there’s plenty of leeway, and you may see the purpose of your wardrobe as slightly different than the way I see mine. Yes, there are some fairly standard conventions (for example, what you wear to an interview or a black tie event). I view these similarly to how I see posting drinking pictures or inappropriate pictures–you break these larger conventions at your own risk. I always have the freedom to unfriend, and you do, too.
All these platforms make that latter decision a pretty simple click of the button. People are going to complain and try to police these platforms in an attempt to instill order. But I say you should follow two simple rules:
- Always be kind. This extends to offering the benefit of the doubt.
- Post what is good, true and/or beautiful.
The beauty of the Internet is the freedom, the creativity, the uniqueness. We are sort of making it up as we go along. Carry on!