When I first discovered Instagram I was going through a difficult time. As a determined optimist, I was very keen on anything that would help me look at the glass as half full, even if life seemed to be pulling the other way.
Then not so long ago a friend shared a beautiful article on Facebook about the pianist Alice Herz-Sommer that had this quote in it: “I am looking for the nice things in life. I know about the bad things, but I look only for the good things”. This is how someone who lost most of her family in the Holocaust managed to remain optimistic during her long life. Thankfully nothing that has ever happened to me can even compare to what Alice Herz-Sommer has been through in her life, yet her lesson on how to leave bitterness out really struck a cord, as this is very much what I strive to do.
Back to Instagram, then. If you are not familiar with it, it’s a phone app where you can crop your phone pictures and then add all sorts of filters that can completely change the feel of the picture. Some are golden and make the pictures look like you are staring at a vintage image, others are slightly pink and make faces look remarkably unwrinkled, and others simply sharpen the colours and the focus. It is also very much a social media app, so you share the images with the people who follow you and you can also post them in Facebook and Twitter.
So I started taking pictures left, right and centre (which I was prone to doing anyway), and I quickly got hooked for two reasons. First, because it gave me a means of capturing the moments of beauty that existed in the middle of a bleak time in my life. So I would take these beautiful moments, enhance them by editing the photos and then preserve and share them. And I was then able to look at my own Instagram profile and see all the beauty that there was in my life and focus on that.
Second, I quickly found that in Instagram you get lots and lots of positive feedback on your photos. From a heart that pops up every time someone “likes” your photos, to people making making nice comments about them. And what I hadn’t expected, was quite how many people took the time to like and comment on the photos. I started following other people too, liking their photos and making nice comments back. All of sudden I had found a steady daily supply of positiveness and kindness, which turned out to be something I needed.
Of course most of these people were perfect strangers, but they were nice and kind strangers who brought me something positive. And over time a few of these people have become real friends with whom I have a lot in common. There are some who I have never met but whose judgement on good food and wine I really trust now, so I will contact them when in need of recommendations. And there are some whose lives have really touched me, like a wonderful Catalan woman (who I have never met), but who I know is undergoing chemotherapy and yet manages to spread cheerfulness and wishes everyone a good morning every day.
And I even posted two or three “selfies”. Because somehow Instagram was helping me settle into an unexpected new life, understanding what was good and beautiful about it and focus on that instead of lamenting the life that hadn’t worked out.
Quite understandably people like to make fun of those of us who are into social media… there was a tweet doing the rounds saying “Facebook makes you believe that you have friends, Instagram that you are a photographer and Twitter that you are witty”. There is of course lots of truth in this, and you can easily look at people’s social media activity and jump to conclusions about how sad or not their real life may be. All I can say is that for me it has been a good thing. Not a replacement for real friends, but a great complement. Because sometimes you don’t want to ask too much of your real friends, and because when you have to change your life it may be good to look at it from the outside to appreciate the positives.