It says a lot about the society we live in that, even when we’re away somewhere utterly ah-mazing, we feel the need to whip out our iPhones, snap a picture and post it on Instagram - the Facebook owned social media phenomenon that allows people to transform snapshots into magazine-worthy images and share them easily with friends, family and followers.
As someone who is new to the network, I can certainly see the attraction. Who doesn’t like scrolling through pictures of fabulous places (Dubai, Mexico, Amsterdam and Shanghai all popped up in my 'news' feed this morning) and people (everyone can look like a member of the Kardashian Klan thanks to Instagram’s array of flattering, built in filters)?
More than that as a former expat, Instagram allows me to stay connected with the friends I made during my stint overseas: I get to see where and what they're up to and feel part of their lives even though we are no longer living in the same country.
Nonetheless nearly two weeks into my new 'Instagram' life, I can’t help but wonder: is sharing really caring? Or is it simply just good old fashioned showing off? Look! Ryan is ‘sunburnt in Sanya!’ . Elsewhere Paul is posing in front of the Empire State Building while the lovely Lou is prone to posting pictures of cupcakes and cocktails that would cause Carrie Bradshaw to turn green. (Lou later confessed that she spends on average 10 minutes composing each shot?!). There’s another friend at a festival, while a former colleague posted a picture of himself drinking champagne in BA’s business lounge.
Writing this while sitting alone, in a coffee stained sweatshirt, in my small London apartment,it would be easy to succomb to FOMO (aka the dreaded Fear Of Missing Out).
Fortunately common sense prevails for, as a travel journalist, it's fair to say that my life isn't too shabby. I’ve just never been very gone at documenting my travels and tales on Instagram. This is partly because I’m a committed technophobe and partly because - and I aware I'm in deep danger of sounding ridiculously pretentious right now - I like to be 'present in the moment' as it were.
However a recent weekend in Hamburg revealed that being 'present' is clearly no longer enough for most of us. I was in the Port City for Hamburg’s 'Cruise Days' spectacle - a weekend which saw the city’s landmark buildings and bridges magically illuminated in blue every evening, while sailing vessels, passenger ships and cruise liners made their way down the River Elbe against a beautiful backdrop of fireworks.
It was an incredible couple of days our group unanimously agreed, but we didn’t stop there: we took to Twitter and Instagram anytime we were able to access WiFi to post pictures and status updates of our Hamburgian experiences accompanied, of course, with immodest hashtags - think #WishYouWereHere?! #LifeIsGood #Sunrise and so on...
Why? Why do we do it? It could be because my generation (the YOLO - You Only Live Once - cohorts) is all about experiences. We’d rather splash our cash on a meal at fashionable Chiltern Firehouse than on Fendi furniture, for few Londoners have the space for materialistic possessions with property prices what they are in this day and age. Having moved 12 times in 10 years, I know that I certainly shy away from owning stuff - the fear of having to pack up possessions and cart/ship them to whichever London post code/part of the world I find myself bound for nextis enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. (Read James Wallman’s fascinating book, Stuffocation, for further insight into this new trend.)
Personally speaking it’s also because - as a freelance travel and lifestyle journalist - I feel like I’m not doing my job if I don’t Tweet or take Instagram pictures. I’m now contractually obliged to ‘share’ certain ‘gigs’ online but I'd like to think that rather than inspire envy, my social media musings will, in some small way, inspire any followers to go after what it is they love in life.
Still I can’t help wishing that we weren’t all obsessed with selfies and would stop spending every waking second staring at an iPhone screen. Truth be told I live in hope that the social media backlash is just around the corner.
Until then, please excuse me while I continue to eat and Tweet....