Stories and DMs

A Reconsideration

by Matthew Thomas

I experienced a sort of phenomenon the other week, when, lying in bed on a quiet Tuesday night, I numbly tapped away at my phone screen. It was around 11pm, and I had been off the grid for a few hours by that point, so I felt it appropriate to check in on those I knew—and those I really didn’t know at all—the one way I could: Instagram.

We have to consider what Instagram really is: a platform. It is not an extension of reality. Sure, it is a place where we document our lives in photographs. But nowadays you’d more easily find users of the app paranoid about “the grid” (how their photos look and flow together on their feed) than posting authentic, day-to-day material. We manicure our feeds, we don’t bare our souls on them. The only place on the app you might find any sort of soul-baring is on someone’s “finsta,” in which they can be truly unfiltered, only to a safe, select group who after years of each other’s company are not quick to pass judgement. But if our “finstas”—or what I like to think of as digital diaries enmeshed with shitposting—are only available to a limited and private audience, what new connections are we genuinely forming? With this in mind, I always perceived Instagram as a platform for performance, and therefore the last place for real human connection. It was all artifice, ulterior motives feigning authenticity, an artwork where the artist was involving less and less of their true self in the art.

But that night, my mind and heart were changed when I stumbled upon the story of a person who I really did not know at all. We had only met one night the previous semester in which we shared a juul beneath hazy neon lights, and exchanged social media information before parting ways. In this one story, the person chose to be refreshingly candid: there was no performance here, rather an untouched selfie against her bedroom wall, from which a Velvet Underground poster hung. The same Velvet Underground poster that hung above my own bed.

Art by Pixie Kolesa

Art by Pixie Kolesa

My fingers flew to the message box: OMG I HAVE THE EXACT SAME VELVET UNDERGROUND POSTER IN MY DORM. Then, I stopped. Who am I to “slide into the DMs” of this person, who I barely know, about something so trivial as a poster? This could end disastrously. That was when I realized, this poster would never appear in a “manicured feed.” It would never be something fresh or aesthetically-pleasing enough to coincide with today’s modernity, or even our obsession with “vintage media.” I was presented with a tiny, telling thread of information about this person, and that thread would be gone in 24 hours. Only this message box—this place for “DM sliding”—connected us, and it connected us via something real.

I approached my friend Sam to discuss this very trivial yet somehow dire situation. “Should I DM this person? Is it weird? Will they take it the wrong way?” And then he said something brilliant. “Social media, in so many ways that we don’t even really recognize, provides us with nuances—even mundane ones—about each other. It’s not the overt expression, but the little unique qualities about our shared habits [like a poster in the background of a photo] that can really connect people in ways that wouldn’t happen elsewhere.” In short, the story and DM feature of Instagram was (and is) taking a platform so expansive, so manufactured, so (in many ways) impersonal, and re-personalizing it. I finally saw it as media that was authentically social.

I hit SEND and held my breath. Suddenly: a DM notification. A week later, as I traipsed through the dining hall, a voice called out: “Hey Matt! It’s me, Julie.”

We haven’t stopped chatting since.

Second illustration.jpg


It’s common knowledge that Instagram is just a simulation. I’m scrolling through my own feed right now, and wow, I wish this was what my everyday life actually looked like. With all the discourse circulating around what Instagram is doing to us, it’s no secret that our best selfie isn’t what we look like everyday. And we all know we post way more photos on a vacation than we do at school. It’s become accepted that our social media “self” isn’t really real.

What’s new and needs to be examined, however, is the recent trend of the “finstagram” (fake instagram), which isn’t really fake at all. If anything, the finstagram is a more authentic representation of what someone’s day-to-day life looks like. Typically, the photos are centered around a tone of self-deprecation, sarcasm, and outright nihilism. As opposed to the bubblegum feeds of regular Instagram, this change feels somehow refreshing. On your finstagram, you don’t have to accept that social media projects a fake representation of yourself. Finstagram is our way of reclaiming authenticity without conceding that all social media is a sham.  

“Sometimes it’s just so satisfying to hit ‘share’ and not put any thought into it at all,” senior Becky Hughes, a rabid finstagrammer at NYU, says. “My other account is almost more of a professional thing. I put my photography up on it, and I want it to have a certain look. My other account is basically just me word vomiting and being TMI.”

It sounds dark at first blush, but if we find satisfaction from connecting and relating over our happy moments, it could be just as gratifying to post about the opposite feelings. The finstagram phenomenon could be the natural response to our need to break the fourth wall of social media and tell our followers, “This isn’t real. I am not always overjoyed and my life isn’t always so colorful.” Call it shallow, but this form of posting acts as catharsis for many.

“Well, I think it’s just that I’ll post sad stuff [on my finstagram] instead of texting a friend about it. It lets me express it but I don’t really have to put that burden on someone else directly,” says finsta-user Daniel Clemens, senior VMA student. “I don’t let that many people follow mine, it’s just people that I’m actually close with. I don’t care at all really about getting likes.”

Last week, The Huffington Post released their own article exploring what the “dark world” of a finstagram, or “finsta,” looks like. The article claimed that it was a response to parents starting to use Instagram and said, “Finstas have morphed into a malicious animal capable of reducing even the most well-adjusted and mentally healthy teens to rubble.” The Huffington Post’s ability to sensationalize isn’t surprising.

As far as I’ve seen, however, the use of a finstagram has only acted to help the self-esteem in my peers. NYU senior Dani Narins reasons, “I just use it to spill tea to people I trust and get my insecurities validated.” There’s value in that. We all share a dark and creepy generational subconscious. This is part of how we, as youths, show off the shadow to our public selves.

Text by Annie Armstrong

Photography by Ebrima Manjang