A Response to Cazzie David’s “Instagroan”

By Nathalie Friedman

Cazzie David’s recent article “Instagroan” announces that the Internet is not your diary. I’ve heard this sentiment and seen this eye roll before. Often, I am the one groaning.Credit: W Magazine

However, I have to admit, that as annoying as it is to see your middle school arch-enemy post a sentimental paragraph online – diaries exist anywhere and everywhere one breathes, thinks, or speaks. Meaning, this impulse for verbalization is not new to society, although its medium has become electronic. We just need to build better skills for dealing with it. After all, people have been screaming out the window for centuries, and as irksome as it might be to listen – impulsive, messy communication is actually longstanding.

Allow me to present a few complementary ideas to why the race toward emotional expression is traceable, expected, and somewhat valid.

Tinder harnesses sexual selection. Dating apps do not create superficiality – but rather translate human attraction that says ask her out from a diner parking lot to a phone screen. While the circumstances change, because the fear of rejection is minimized online, and the influx of potential partners is higher – Tinder is only an image of an ongoing human impulse to rate others based on looks. 

Similarly, Facebook and Instagram harness the will American people have to self-label and self-identify. However, this quest for self-definition is not universal. Throughout history, many countries’ values have revolved around having one communal national identity, so pride actually stems from being in unity and conformity. 

Early American authors like Thoreau and Emerson set a tone of non-conformity long ago. As a result, in the US we tend to equate identity with individuality. However, it came to my attention that identity and singularity are not synonymous – even if, in America, they may as well be. Here, to be too “basic” or “relatable,” is to be a sleepwalker.

Americans seem wholeheartedly dedicated to pronouncing how they are different. Captions, including those about mental health, reflect a will to communicate and feel unique, which does not have its origin online. 

David mourns the “end of silent suffering,” and the reality that mental health issues have become trendy, and a new way of expressing individuality. She perfectly highlights that exploiting mental health online is irresponsible, and “without any awareness that the user’s lament is contributing to the black hole of posts that make people depressed in the first place.” Although I strongly agree with David about the dangers of oversharing, I think it’s worthwhile to note another facet of why we groan at our phones. Perhaps readers are partially responsible for their own upset. Yes, glamorizing sadness is problematic – but it’s important to be resilient against it.

In other words, I’d like to reach a point where users’ emotional posts online don’t force me to unfollow them, as David does, because of “what their stories are doing to my mental health.” And I think the best way is through self-awareness about my instinct to be angry or dismissive.

Mass posts about being sad, being hardworking, or being brave insinuate that one is an authority on sadness, work ethic, or bravery. Trying to be the “most” of everything feels immodest. So, reporting that you are struggling, and only human, like Kylie Jenner does, but competitively, from a private island, presumably with a daughter who is wearing Chanel, seems counterintuitive.

Credit: Kylie Jenner’s Instagram

All it means, though, is that sadness is a feature of being human. Competitiveness is another feature. And unstated competitiveness is often the reason for such posts about sadness. 

Captions, like all self-reflection, reveal a widespread curiosity for leaving one’s diary open on a table. This curiosity is similar to vanity—our feelings are deeply intertwined with our interest in what other people think about our feelings. Therefore, people find clever ways to probe their community in a never-ending effort to make their stories (and selves) compelling. The Instagram user does what people often do: leave a key on the ground next to a safe. 

People want attention, even if they’re scared of it. 

Credit: Unsplash

The biggest problem with captions is when they are possessive of emotions. We write "my sadness," "my experience," "my transformation," and try to assert credibility. We try and claim pain like winners. Sincerity is at odds with self-importance. 

Perhaps readers resent the death of silent suffering for the same reason Americans resent all trends: the goal is to resist conformity. When others use possessive language, and then we relate—we eventually feel robbed of the pain we had named for ourselves. 

To feel angry that your middle school enemy’s post “unbelievably” and “undeservingly” took your words – is to suggest such words were yours in the first place. Ironically, when a user gushes their truth, possessive language makes it harder to find common ground. Readers are inclined to feel violated. 

We cannot control who posts online, nor can we measure their validity. Also, it is not a given that refraining from writing long captions, and choosing privacy instead, is more natural than being candid.

The goal, then, is to look inward and read Instagram captions without feeling robbed. I know it hurts to ask yourself, how can my feelings, the ones that shake my world, and impinge on my vision be relatable? And it feels surprising that weighty nightmares are shared. It is a horrible feeling, an un-American feeling, to not feel so unique.

Credit: Unsplash

Perhaps Cazzie David’s criticism of oversharing, versus silent suffering, is actually a criticism of the vanity that saturates our world – not simply openness on social media. Unfortunately, our competitive nature is incompatible with any authentic pain. Instagram is the convenient intersection for heartbreak and the beach.  

Yes, attention-seeking has dug its teeth into the topic of mental health online, and this may be risky and unfortunate. However, verbalization is never going away – and eye-rolling or even anger stems from the fact that depth is becoming generic.

It’s like I said before – in America, we are told not to conform. Yet, both the writer and reader have to react to pain responsibly. This means thinking before posting. It also means resisting that groan.

 

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