The magic of Instagram


Lunch. Coffee. Skylines. Fresh ingredients. Shelves of merchandise. Feet.

Facebook is so boring. Twitter is so trivial. Instagram is so fake. Why do people continue to use them? What do these services offer us that we continue to use them so heavily? Facebook is a heavyweight champion of Internet traffic. Few people question the usefulness of Twitter. Bloggers post weekly Instagram updates. There has to be something more here than social interaction - if all we wanted was interaction, we'd have stuck with IM programs, guest books, and message boards. Successful social media services must offer something for both the user and their followers.

I don't think it's fame or popularity. I don't think it's entertainment.

I think it might be a magnifying glass.

People who keep journals of gratitude and happiness are measurably happier. Focusing on the positive things in life and downplaying the negatives is just good for our overall well-being. It's one of the secrets of meditation, and perhaps it's the secret of Instagram, too.

Before I started forcing myself to write down three "good things" before bed, I half-heartedly did it in my head. I stopped when it seemed like nothing good ever happened. "Today I cleaned the bathroom" just didn't seem like the kind of positive and inspiring reflection that was necessary for increased happiness. I don't think it's a stretch to say that the majority of a typical person's day is pretty damn average. We fill our days with mundane tasks like walking the dog and getting dressed; a series of minuscule mediocrities. There's nothing inherently depressing about these tasks, but there's not necessarily anything that's joyful, either.

Until you start blogging.

When you have a blog - or an Instagram account, or a Twitter profile, or a Facebook account - you start to look for things in your life that might possibly be worth sharing. You take pictures of the garnish in your drink; you eavesdrop on strangers' conversations; you are more willing to eat at a new restaurant, all for the sake of having something that might be share-worthy. I could blog this, might seem like a narcissistic and shallow reason to actively enjoy your life more, but hey - when we're talking about you enjoying your life more, aren't all reasons inherently shallow?

Peering through the false patina of Instagram reveals the art hidden within our mundane lives. There are other ways to achieve this effect, but social media is fast, widely accessible, and the results are exactly the same - you stop to smell the roses. And yes, it's likely that no one actually cares to know what you had for lunch or what your feet look like in the swimming pool. Maybe it is true that no one would miss you if you left the Internet. But that's not the point, is it? Because you're not doing social media for other people... you're doing it for yourself.

Curiosity

It was 1:30AM, and we were sitting in our living room with a friend, staring at each other blankly. "So, uh, what do we do now?" we asked each other.

"Weeellll, the Mars rover lands in an hour. I guess we could stream that and play Minecraft?"

Up to this point I had been aware of the Curiosity landing in much the same way that I was aware of the Olympics. It was neat because it's a big event that happens only every few years, and it showcased a large amount of talent. I was interested in a sort of vague, "Yay engineering!" kind of way, but didn't care too much.

I figured the stream would make neat background noise while I did some mining.

But I quickly became glued to the video - the fantastic details of Curiosity's flight and descent were far more interesting than I had previously thought. "ROCKET PARACHUTE!!" is what I screamed when the video showed a simulation of Curiosity's landing, "MOTHERFUCKING ROCKET PARACHUTE!" My Minecraft Steve stood inside his blocky villa, holding his pickaxe, abandoned. You can't compete with rocket parachutes.

During the 7 Minutes of Terror we sat in silence and I chewed my nails. "There's no way this is going to work," I said. "They're right on time, though," said T, glancing at the clock. "They're fucking NASA, of course they're on time," was my half-serious response.

There was silence. Tension. More silence and tension. Then the control room exploded into cheering.


The landing had been a success. A few moments later - "We have thumbnails!" and even more cheering, as we all saw a low-res, blurry, black-and-white picture of some dirt.


It felt amazing. The excitement of those folks at NASA was completely contagious. I kept the stream on until I went to bed, listening to all the details. The landing was more than successful - it was practically flawless.

I think, though, what I liked most about the stream were these two fellows:

Photo of a NASA engineer who has his hair styled in a mohawk with blue and red highlights. On the side of his skull are two yellow stars.

Photo of an older, male NASA engineer with shoulder-length grey hair

I think it's a credit to technical and scientific fields that folks with unconventional appearances or hair styles can still be taken seriously. These job positions are quite prestigious and well-respected, and yet having a mohawk or being a male with long hair doesn't affect people's faith in your ability to do a job. Which, of course, is common sense - why should your hair affect your work? Why is it that people considering tattoos, piercings or hairstyles are told to consider their ability to get hired?

I really do love the engineering community for the fact that no shits are given. My fiancee T, as you may recall, is a scrawny long-haired boy, and yet he commands a tremendous amount of respect from his peers and supervisors because of his engineering ability. The guys above put a rover on Mars. They are just as capable with their fancy hair as they would be with more traditional cuts. Engineering and scientific fields are definitely ahead of the curve on this one, and it makes me proud.
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"Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."