Scrolling through my Instagram feed in August is enough to fill anyone who has spent the last month stewing in a rural backwater with an acute sense of inadequacy. I see picture after picture of bikini-clad friends sprawled on sun loungers, sipping candidly from enormous cocktails, floating on giant inflatables in sparkling swimming pools, or else enjoying rooftop dinners against glowing sunsets. Then there are the travellers – we see the smiles at the airport, the backpacks and bundles, and scroll past “Checked into: [insert enviable country]”. Day by day on feeds and stories we witness them befriending locals and fellow travellers, helping out with worthy causes, and relaxing around beach fires, in hammocks, or aboard yachts on Mediterranean oceans.
Summer has become like a mini gap yah. Everyone seems to be enjoying a perfect montage of picturesque family fun, quality time with friends, charity adventures to Thailand or Australia – and all of it well documented of course, in a regular stream of dazzling photos on Instagram.
Far from advancing my CV, my mental well-being, my prospects, horizons, and bragging-rights, I have this summer reverted to kid-mode. I have spent much of my time at home, bickering with my siblings, postponing vac work, and relishing reversion to total dependence on others. My sole attempt at being a grown-up was the acquisition of my first job at a pub in Oxford, which I loathed with every fibre of my being, and the small amount of money I did make I put towards my ISA rather than exotic travels.
Unsurprisingly, I have at times found myself feeling like something of a failure, because thanks to social media, #summer has become something we have to actively celebrate over the weeks, something that cannot – and should not – be “wasted” simply through lack of initiative, energy, or funds. We must take advantage of the hot weather by going abroad, swimming and festival-ing, take advantage of the time off uni by indulging in photogenic, high quality relaxation (we’re talking spa not sofa, pool not park!), while the ambitious take advantage of the free months by engaging in internships to boost their CVs.
When I stop and consider Instagram and its notoriously nebulous relationship with reality, everything makes sense – what we see in a photo is a single flash of time, a very carefully chosen, perhaps even constructed, moment in an ordinary life. Instagram is a platform designed for the nosy, ironically to punish the nosy, because what we choose to display to everyone we know is naturally going to be the very best we have. We post the best, not the normal, or we would be posting every five minutes rather than once every few days.
As a result, Instagram is a breeding-ground for competitiveness: we see other peoples’ best, and our pride demands that we present ourselves as better, and before you know it we have the string of preposterously glamorous photographs on my feed that cannot represent lives that I know are really very similar to my own. Could it be that this narcissistic cycle, which feeds on the worst of each of us – our pride, our self-absorption, and desire to dominate – manipulates us into feeling sufficiently insecure that we simply must keep posting to prove ourselves sufficient?
There is of course truth and real graft behind the pictures that we see. For most, every day spent abroad represents hours of labouring in minimum-wage jobs, and every day by the pool is surely balanced by a day at the desk – I am not the only one faced with Mountain Vac-Work.
So, depressing though Instagram can be for those of us who have not left the UK this summer, let’s not confuse social media for what it purports to be: a documentary of our lives. Well-angled snapshots of the ups do not displace the many downs we all have to face, and lack of publicity does not make your vac any less a summer. The Vac, after all, is what it says on the tin – a vacation from the pressures of Oxford – and whether you are vacating to long white beaches or to the back garden, it’s real worth is surely how much you enjoy it, rather than how good it looks next to others on the screen.