December 8, 2022 / Amelia Kushner

losing to The Man: now with stories and posts and profiles, oh my!

My consumer base is very dear to me.

My consumers number 1,845. Not a notable number. Not excessive, but not quite modest, either.

My consumers know me. They know everything there is to know! They know that I am early 2000s Top 40, that I am beige/green/mahogany, that I am animal lover, I am cheeky-sexy-sarcastic, I am blue eyes in the sun.

My consumers must every day prove that they would purchase me again for me to retain my value. Buy me! Buy me! Like! Comment! Turn on post notifications so you don’t miss a thing!

How rigid, how numeric. Quite impersonal, for the platform excused as a means to connect with people (—in these dark and divisive times, a very diverse ad between posts may remind you).

I am a seasoned producer. I am part of the Instagram generation. For us Instagram was not for reconnecting; it was the initial connection. It was not for expressing our complete adult selves; it was the initial step in identity formation. Who was I before I told everyone who I was on Instagram? How could anyone possibly describe me to someone else without showing them my Instagram?

If you are born in the Instagram generation, you are appointed your own brand strategist at 11, 12, 13. You now have to juggle content creation and brand management with middle school soccer practice and getting your Red Cross babysitting certificate. You manage your image – you curate, you engage, you repost what you’re supposed to – and you take on the role of the celebrity, of the corporation, of The Man, who does all that toward the end goal of money, but you do it for free. You are still the spender. You still consume. But now you also produce. Now you do what they do, you lie and fudge and re-edit and FaceTune, and yet you still believe in the earnestness of the celebrity, because if they are not honest then neither are you. Here is where modern consumers uniquely lose to The Man. 

Prior to identity-by-Instagram, our losses to The Man were standardly Marxian. Our one advantage, as the proletariat consumer, was that all we did (all we did autonomously, that is, individually) was consume. The Man depended on the whim of the people – he produced, we consumed. Our tastes dictated his production. The Man was subject to mass opinion in the way that we the commoners were not; we the commoners preoccupied ourselves with only to the scrutiny of our friends, of our family, occasionally of a couple of select strangers at a party, perhaps, or on a blind date set up by a mutual friend. And so we had this one advantage in our underling lives – we did not have to constantly cater to the fickle whim of the masses.

Now The Man has stripped us of even that, and sold us the idea that we did it to ourselves.

Why don’t you just delete it?

That question used to plague me. That Gen X question, asked with a ticked-off what-gives? sort of expression.

Wouldn’t we all, if it were that easy? Wouldn’t at least the less material, at least those with half a brain and a bright future ahead of them, if it were that simple?

I fancy myself intelligent (I wonder if my consumers would agree. I pause and think about that for a while before continuing this paragraph). And yet a significant portion of my energy is directed to this thing which eats at me, which makes me hate myself and which feels often like an utter waste of time and effort. So why, why, why? Why do I continue to spend myself like this?

It is because we the Instagram generation are not all simultaneously inventing the importance of our social media presences. It is not a choice to package ourselves like this, or it is not a choice without consequence.

Instagram is not vanity for the sake of it; it serves a practical function in how we socialize. I asked earlier how anyone could possibly describe me to someone else without my Instagram (rhetorically, you may have thought – sarcastically, perhaps; I am sarcasm, as you and my consumers may remember). But this is a very real phenomenon. We the Instagrammers almost exclusively talk about people with the visual aid of their Instagram. Or we won’t even describe them at all; we’ll just pull them up on our phones (“them” being a metonymy for “their Instagram,” because it’s all the same, really) and show them (there it is again!) to someone else, and wait for the someone else to come to the judgment which we already have.

Our judgments of Instagrams, then, are judgments of people. And since we have access to Instagram anytime, anywhere, and access to real live people only when they happen to be in the same room as us, Instagram judgment most often precedes and replaces any opportunity for real-world judgment; therefore, Instagrams tell us if we like or dislike a person, who we want to hang out with and who we don’t, who’s cool, who’s smart, who’s creative, who is boring or who seems like such a bitch. So we have to spend all this time curating an image. We can’t put down the phone and “live life,” because life and fun and friendship and even love all start on Instagram. If you’re not on Instagram (even if you’re not diligently active on Instagram), you may be strange, you may be other, but most of all, you’re behind.

So what am I supposed to do on my national park hike, then? On my trip to Paris? Not show myself there to my consumers (and, more importantly, my potential consumers!), in my nonchalant and aesthetic way? Not orient my entire experience around content creation, trying to shake the shame that I feel as I do it?

I just can’t leave work at the office. The Man, you clever thing, you!

Our parents sigh and shake their heads at us as they struggle to get everyone together for a family photo in front of the mountains/city skyline. Those kids and their damn Insta-Snap-Tweeter! The Man says to our parents on Facebook.

We are so advanced, with our technology and our internet lives! How shocked, how wowed, our predecessors would be if they saw all these images and conversations and connections!

Advancement is a funny thing. How straightforward it seems, yet how arbitrary its metric. Have we advanced, Black Mirror? Or are we tangling ourselves deeper away from True Progress, as The Man claps his hands with glee? ■

By: Amelia Kushner

Layout: Melanie Huynh

View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 19 here.

ABOUT                  CONTACT                 STAFF                FAQ                 ISSUU