These past few weeks, @SocalityBarbie called our collective Instagram bluff. If you haven’t heard of @SocalityBarbie, Google it. Her single facetious Instagram account has an entire generation of Instagrammers thinking twice before they post a photo of a latte, or a caption about being grateful, or using the hashtag #liveauthentic. Well, at least I am.
If you pay much attention to Instagram, especially a certain aspect of it, all @SocalityBarbie did was point out the obvious: We’re not as original as we’d like to think we are. Actually, all those photos we post with the tag #liveauthentic look exactly like all the others. Morning coffee held in homespun mittens? Check. Look at this leaf I found on my hike? Check. Look at me on this beach while I post an unrelated inspirational quote? Check. You’d think we’re all a bunch of lumbersexual/neo-hippie lemmings, hoping that someone out there thinks we’re actually unique. But I think there’s more to it.
Aside from the obvious trendiness and even consumerism of it all, I think @SocalityBarbie exposed something deeper: a profound—if sometimes misguided—longing for authenticity in our generation. The reason @SocalityBarbie’s posts pack a sting is that all of us would like to think we’re unique and creative.
Many of us millennials on Instagram grew up in the suburbs. We played in front of cookie-cutter houses, in a world exponentially overflowing with mass-produced plastic crap. Everything from the burger we ordered to the shirt on our back was exactly the same as the one a teenager in a town across the country had—as long that town was large enough to have a Target or an Urban Outfitters. Now we’ve traded our Air Jordans for vintage-looking hiking boots and Birkenstocks, and advanced from sugary Starbucks Frappuccinos to single-origin pour-overs at the local shop. Kinfolk is to us what Better Homes and Gardens was for our parents.
Some might argue that we’ve simply graduated to more sophisticated brands, more cultivated trends. But I see a common thread: A desire for things with a story. Maybe it’s just what’s cool right now, but I think it’s something more. We’re tired of the generic. We crave things with a patina, the musty smell of something that’s well used because it’s beautiful and useful and lasting. Something classic. Something that has meaning. We’re tired of throwaway everything.
I met a guy a few years ago, an authentic mover and shaker in the slow- and local-foods movement, who admitted to me that he was so afraid of looking like everyone else, or trying too hard to be cool, that he actually erred in the opposite direction on purpose. He took pains to never wear something exactly like what was trendy, to wear glasses that were distinctly out of fashion, and to ride a bike that was decidedly dorky. He was such a pure example of the drive for originality. Most of us fall somewhere else along the spectrum—and I think that’s OK.
The point is, we all want to somehow communicate to the world something about who we are inside, and the moments and places that feel meaningful to us. No, that handcrafted coffee table sourced from reclaimed barn wood is not necessarily going add meaning to our lives. But if we’re going to bring objects into our world, shouldn’t they be thoughtfully considered objects that bring us some sort of long-term enjoyment? And, no, hiking that super popular trail we saw someone else post about online isn’t like putting up a first ascent. But that doesn’t mean the joy of discovery isn’t fresh and important.
I think we’re tired of feeling disconnected, superficial and cheap. We hope spending $4 on that single-origin pour-over isn’t just a status symbol, but a way for us to feel a connection to the people who grew and roasted the beans, a way to have a more full experience of something we’d be doing every day anyway. The irony is that somehow our collective motion toward a more “authentic” life all began to look the same. It’s the age of the Internet, so of course that’s bound to happen.
I’m sure we could all stand some self-examination, especially when it comes to consumerism and social media: Why do I really want this item? What is my Instagram photo really about? What am I really trying to say with this caption?
But I see in this generation an urge to be doers, makers and discoverers. And maybe the more we actually really do, make and discover—without being motivated by Instagramming—the more we’ll actually authentically diversify. And, if some of it ends up on Instagram, well, it can inspire the rest of us.