Becoming Real Again: Originality, Instagram, and My Generation’s Pursuit of #liveauthentic

A few weeks ago I found myself in a conversational debate with a good friend arguing, of all things, about whether long exposure photography (the fancy flowy waterfall pics/light trails, etc) on Instagram was “authentic” or “legit,” mainly because it is a distortion, albiet a beautiful one, of reality in a picture. We discussed the ambiguous line between just how much editing can be applied to a photo before it loses any emotional value or real-world significance, becoming  just another pretty picture on a site chock-full of pretty pictures. To use that “#liveauthentic” hashtag, you can’t go overboard on the editing- I mean who are we kidding? Our photos aren’t authentic if they are engineered for likes from their birth at the click of the shutter. This conversation stuck out to me for a long time, because as part of the enormous generation of creative millennials, we all want to have those beautiful, flowy, waterfall pics to post on Instagram, but we’re all starting to notice a disturbing trend:

They’re all the same.

Look at any top Instagram photographer and you’ll likely see different variations of the same darned thing- and don’t think I’m judgin’, because of course I post the same type of things as well (I’m likely much worse in this area than you). You know these accounts before I even describe it to you. There will be one of a beach, or a waterfall, all filtered up of course, with a nice inspirational quote to boot. We’ll have one or two infinity shots of misty roads or train tracks, and let’s not forget a cool pic of our beautiful latte, a close up shot of some flowers or raindrops, and you’re set: you’ve got a typical “hipster” IG account. There I said it. The infamous, stereotypical, ambiguous word that defines this culture of trying to figure out just how much you can edit a photo before you break the unwritten rules of authenticity.

As a creative millennial who is known to enjoy alternative indie music, hiking to waterfalls, writing blogs, and wearing (gasp) flannels and boots, people call me a hipster (right to my face) all the time. Do I really care? No. People’s conceptions of an individual should not define that individual’s identity. But I do notice that these “hipsters” (more or less just most young people) get a huge bad rap in today’s society.  We see these parodies of hipster culture all the time, and I laugh along at the stereotyping, but I notice the small amount of truth in them as well. For a group of people who are very obsessed with being authentic, real, legit, and original, I see a lot of the SAME original, unique type of things. wep

The “hipster” culture has defined itself around the idea of being unique, being different. I pride myself in little indie bands no one has heard of, and my special glass chemex coffee maker is MUCH SUPERIOR TO YOUR NORMAL COFFEE- to put it simply, we love being different.

The problem lies in the fact that when we all try to be different in the same cool hipster ways, we all end up being the same.

When we all are trying to be cool hiker/coffee snob/world traveler/musicians, we lose a bit of our personal significance, a bit of that thing that makes you, you and makes me, me. Now remember, I’m not hating on us hipsters- this is more of a critique on myself than anyone else. Maybe you just happened to like wearing flannels before it was cool ;).

I’ve noticed the little bio box on Instagram never reads: working a {day job here} or any real personal information. If you took those bios at face value, you’d think the world only had musicians, adventure hikers, photographers, filmmakers, missionaries, entrepreneurs, and other cool professions/pastimes.

In our mad dash to differentiate ourselves in cool categories, many of us have lost our true identities. As a Christian, mine should be completely founded on Christ’s love for me, not whether I’m “this” or “that,” no matter what those cool categories entail. Pursuing the counter-culture culture will never bring us happiness. Our bands will go mainstream. Skinny jeans, anchor tatoos, and lumberjack beards will eventually go out of style.

Be true to who you are, not what our “authentic” social media society dictates. Don’t pursue beauty, creativity, and authenticity because it is the current cool thing to do, but because it is a good, uplifting, and fulfilling thing to do. If it doesn’t make you a better, happier person, don’t do it. Don’t pursue something simply because of the fact that it’s counter-cultural or undiscovered, and likewise don’t pursue something just because it’s popular. Either way, when our favorite unknown bands go mainstream, or our Insta fame declines, we will be left picking up the pieces if we live our lives for or against culture’s sake. 

Our society conflates identity with uniqueness. And we are all a lot more normal and average than you might think, hate to break it to you. But maybe that’s ok. Maybe living a happy, fulfilled normal life might be more enjoyable than chasing the next “authentic” fad. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to go out and burn you new vinyl records and skinny jeans- just don’t worry if you happen to like country music too (a major hipster faux pas).

The great (and bad) thing about this generation of millennials is that we were raised to believe we were something really special and that we could change the world. I believe counter-culture hipsterdom is just our expression of saying, “Hey, don’t forget that we’re different, we’re special!” I’d argue that while we’re a bit more normal than we act like, we should never ever stop trying to be those awesome world changing people we were told we could be. So carry on my fellow blogging musician/filmmaker/missionary/entrepreneur/coffee snobs who are “currently” somewhere doing photoshoots. In the end, the fact we all want to be doing something unique and special is not a bad thing at all. And who knows, if we all keep on trying to be world changers, maybe we just might do it someday. Authentically, of course.

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit. 

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ 

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’ 

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

― Margery WilliamsThe Velveteen Rabbit


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