MTV killed the radio star. Sitcoms murdered MTV. Reality TV sunk sitcoms. Illegally torrented movies chewed up and spat-out reality TV. Netflix resuscitated drama’s. And then, before Bryan Cranston could even finish letting out a final shuddering breath, I closed the tab and opened YouTube. And seemingly so did everyone else. YouTube, the land of promise where a dad with a camera posts a daily blog, and is viewed more times than the nightly news in Australia.
This is the face of New Media. Kind of like TV as you know it, but the director is the one holding the camera. And he’s pointing the camera at himself. And when the clapperboard snaps down, the action is the goings-on of daily life. It’s a one-man show, straight to the internet. To YouTube and Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Vine and Snapchat and Periscope and Tumblr.
I don’t like the part of me that likes watching the often mundane daily happenings of the Casey Neistat’s, Mr Ben Brown’s, Sam Sheffer’s and Cycling Maven’s of YouTube. It’s narcissistic and a waste of my time. Even more self-flagellation is directed to the me that enjoys the gym mirror selfies and misattributed Helvetica quotes of the fitspo bloggers of Instagram. "If I spent as much time exercising as watching new-media millennials work out, I’d be on the cover of an old-media fitness magazine". -Ghandi.
Watching people like this is kind of like buying neatly packaged steak in styrofoam containers, under the sterile white lights of the local supermarket. We’re getting the essential meat experience, whilst pleasantly choosing to ignore the nastiness of high yield cattle farming, and the efficient killing and dismembering that comes with it. Seeing Mr Ben Brown drive to dinner, or Anna Victoria eat a bowl of muesli and what seems to be, flowers, is the same thing. Life, neatly packaged.
So what’s it like to be on the other side of the screen - to be the director, the meat packager?
To find out I decided to spend a fortnight in the noble quest of becoming Instafamous. Everyday I posted a photo and accompanying story from the regular life of a twenty-something paramedic on the coast of Australia. At @dandailee. Annoyingly the account @dandaily was taken and wasn’t even posting every twenty-four hours. Wasted.
Irritated but undeterred, I started with the Scientific Method. The one Mr Pearson made me rewrite 100 times as punishment for something or other in Year 10 science. Step 1. Write your hypothesis.
Hypothesis 1, was that it would be easy. This ended on the first day, when I was returning from a long day at work and looking forward to soup, bread and Netflix. Instafame, I suddenly remembered. Balls. Thoughts of Netflix reluctantly faded as I grabbed my activewear, camera and tripod and cruised to the beach for a workout. Once there, I was faced with the imminent problem of, actually taking the photo. Jogging past a camera on a tripod is a reliable way to make yourself feel like a loser. Doing it on a beach packed with people will ensure you actually look like one. In this case there was nothing for it but to set the camera up and jog past. And go back to check the shot. And then do another lap. And then go back. And lap. And back. Getting it just right turned out to be both technically difficult and socially awkward. I got a lot of funny looks and there was no denying what I was doing. To all present, this was obviously an extreme example of posing for a selfie. This was definitely not turning out to be easy.
Later in the week, stalled with a rather dismal but appreciated 14 followers, I needed some serious help. With a far healthier 1.2k followers, Matt is the most instafamous person I know. So by default, I turned to him. The admin of @astrasatlas, an account he describes as "a kind of hashtag wunderlust blog", he let me in on a key secret of ‘the gram’. Over 80 million posts are uploaded everyday. As a result, trying to get instafamous by only posting photos will never be effective. Your work will just be diluted in the torrential downpour of #smashedavo’s and #squadgoal’s and #squatday’s. To really get my name out there, I needed to ‘LCF’.
"Like, comment and follow, you must" he might as well have said, like a social-media Yoda.
Now as well as planning the next shoot, taking the photo, writing the caption, and finding the hashtags, I was expected to use my free time to engage with other users. I could expect this to take, "probably like most of your time, especially at the start" if I wanted to reach the lofty heights of a four-figure follower count.
Hypothesis 1 was bust. This was not at all easy.
As mentioned, I’m a normal human that does normal human things. Instagram, however, is a service for showing off the highlights of your normal life. This presents a problem, what should you post when you don’t do anything highlight worthy? That leads to Hypothesis 2: Trying to achieve Instafame would make me Do Better Stuff. In theory the pressure of having to present an instagram worthy photo at the end of the day should inspire me to go out and do something worthwhile. To seize the day. Carpe diem. Or something.
On day seven, H. and I were making breakfast. I was cooking and thinking about I was doing later in the day, and would any of it be #authentic or #outdoorslyfe? It had only taken one week and already this kind of thinking had cemented itself in the background noise of my subconscious. I was always thinking about the next upload. This was probably unhealthy. Distracting at the very least. H. called out, breaking my reverie. The oats I was stirring had boiled over. I turned the heat down.
"Got it!", I exclaimed.
"Not really.. There’s porridge everywhere", she muttered, as she looked for a cloth.
"No, I mean I’ve got an idea for a photo! Why don’t we take the pallet table down to the beach and eat on the sand? It’ll look sick!", I added.
She just rolled her eyes.
But we did, and it was awesome, and it probably wouldn’t have happened had it not been for my Instafame obsession. It didn’t stop there. After work I did more exercise. Before work I went out for breakfast before I was due at the station. I attended drinks when I didn’t feel like it. As it turns out, there is nothing more motivating than the desire to glean likes on an upcoming upload. It’s like an imagined peer pressure to perform for the crowd. Alternatively, there is nothing so anxiety ridden as absent mindedly clicking your phone on and off as your subconscious checks for new likes. The worst for this is immediately after an upload. The hours feel drawn out and your psyche becomes strung out.
Hypothesis 2 was right on. I did more stuff and loved it. But what was the cost?
Would it make me happier? Of course this was the overarching question to the whole project. Leading into it, Hypothesis 3 was that it would. After all, the fitspo people we follow and watch seem to be extraordinarily happy.
As an aside, remember when bus tickets used to be paper, and have inspirational quotes printed on the back? Presumably to rally the masses on their daily grind. It was very utopian or dystopian and I’m still not sure which. I always liked the one that said ‘Positive actions lead to positive attitudes’. That applies here. It doesn’t matter if our fitspo idols are having a great time or not. Surely the daily act of pretending to be, will eventually cement itself into a happier way of thinking. So does it?
No. [YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY] For me, I definitely did better stuff, to create better photos. I appreciated smaller things more, just by the act of editing a single moment. However, for all but the sixty-eth of a second as the self-directed shutter clicked, my day became an obsessive and anxious journey to be seen to be doing awesome shit. And when I wasn’t, I was depressed at the lameness of my day and stressed about the deadline of my #dailypost.
Worse was when I was doing something awesome! I began to believe my every moment was as cool as, and deserved to be, as cool as I was portraying. I started to drink the coolaid. That sweet, sweet fitspo coolaid. I was a dealer getting high on my own supply. It was the age of entitlement. And it began around day 8. I had got back, amped after a swim and started editing a shirtless photo of myself. I looked good. Definitely good enough to hit fifty likes! It didn’t get fifty likes, and that made me depressed. Even if it did, it only would have made me feel entitled to more likes on the next post. A never ending cycle. Ultimately it just led to crushing lows when I had a normal day, made worse after soaring highs.
Hypothesis 3, bust.
So to wrap. Instafame is not easy. It will encourage you to do better things. When you don’t you’ll feel bad and when you do it will become a junkie’s high. In the end my opening metaphor turned out to be more apt than anticipated. Presenting life as neatly packaged as a steak on a white tray, with a parsley garnish is definitely satisfying! Like the butcher, however, being behind the scenes it’s bloody and work...