I wonder what the master storytellers and novelists of our generation think of the Instagram story. They spend months and years writing intricate, moving stories driven by complex characters and implausible circumstances. And then one fine day, Instagram comes along and tells us that a 5 second boomerang of two margarita glasses clinking is good enough to be published as a short story. Free of cost. Free of effort. And free of any real intelligence.
The Instagram story has always invited my derision. Because it isn’t a story as much as it is simply a low-level attempt at documenting existence. And much of existence is boring. So what’s more pathetic than a desperate attempt to make your boring existence look interesting. And that’s the last of my vitriol. I will be a little more sensitive henceforth.
Every day life is quite mundane. I doubt even individuals at the peak of their creative output or life contentment exist in a state of perpetual excitement. Every day life doesn’t allow for it. We have moments of insight, elation, or satisfaction. But a lot of our days consist in performing the mundane. Which includes socialising. We smile, we laugh, we talk, we grab a few drinks, get a cup of coffee, watch a movie, head out for dinner. But all of these experiences are still mundane. We may find immense reward in the mundane, but we shouldn’t for a moment try to think of these experiences as anything other than mundane.
Mundane can be interesting. Seinfeld orchestrated an entire career lamenting upon the mundane. If the mundane occupies much of our lives, we are bound to find most of our meaning within it. It is in simply existing that we happen upon the moments we cherish most. And so it isn’t surprising that a lot of interesting stories whether fictional or not, arise from a subjective confrontation with the universal mundane.
A story is “an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment”. What a story is not is a panorama view of the mountains, eating cake, working out at the gym, sipping coffee, taking a walk, hugging a friend, or a screenshot of the song you’re currently listening to. These are experiences. Not stories. They say nothing of relevance to anyone because they reside in the superficial aspect of the mundane. Unless equipped with deeply subjective insight, they will resonate with no one. Because it is only in deep subjectivity that the eternal can be accessed.
But the Instagram story has invited us to participate in curating our mundanity. We provide snapshots of mundanity not to show mundanity but instead to try and transform it into something more. Or something less rather. We reduce it to an impersonal look at an experience that was probably personally meaningful.
My story shows you the Mexican food I had for lunch. Or the boring work I’m stuck with late on a Friday night. Or a peaceful morning in the hills. But maybe I enjoyed a much needed hour of solitude while eating that plate of Mexican food. Maybe I reevaluated my career while finishing up my boring work that Friday night. Maybe I wondered whether I have been shackled beyond help by the sensory pleasures of urbanisation while having that peaceful morning in the hills.
Those are the highly subjective processes that are inspired by the mundane; The kind of subjectivity which we would never be able to express adequately in an Instagram story.
And hence the Instagram story has reduced our existences to a seeming mass of impersonal experiences. When you strip something of its subjective meaning, it becomes merely descriptive. And so 500 Instagram stories of margarita glasses clinking have lost all that was subjective to each of those experiences and has resulted in a caricature of existence. And individual existence is anything but a caricature.
We aren’t telling our story when we put up a story on Instagram. We are trying to do something much harder. We are trying to communicate the essence of our story within a few seconds. We are trying to do what artists strive to do in every work of theirs. We are basically trying to create art in every one of the 10 stories we put up every day. Is it any wonder that we fail so miserably in our effort to communicate an essence that resonates?
A more realistic objective would be to experience the experience for ourselves. To grasp the essence of the experience and what it means to us. It’s quite tough to communicate essence to someone else without the essence losing some of itself. In the process of putting up a story, we may begin to value our experience less because we hope for everyone to understand why we are valuing it. They will never understand it. Because we aren’t as effective at communicating essence as we think we are. Ask the artists.