mgranados' essays

And I'm feeling good (on Instagram, not so much on Twitter)

January 2020

Brandon Stanton has some of the most powerful content I've ever seen on twitter. The idea of his account is to expose the emotions of people he meets in the street. Humans of New York has the most impressive stories I've ever read and the reason is that those stories are human. The stories he tells are always deep and very emotional; people with parents that treated them horribly or someone with a lot of social anxiety that speak their mind to him. He places some of their most remarkable phrases in an image, then snaps a candid of the author and posts it into social media.

What makes it so powerful to me is that those persons are sharing their intimacy, or at least that's how I feel when reading about someone's parents, or the drug addiction they faced for years. How vulnerable they allow themselves to be, knowing that also a picture of them would be snapped and placed next to their stories. It's as if Humans of New York were its own meta social media that allows people to expose themselves without a username nor a profile and in that anonymity they present some wonderful and touching stories. You could have a movie of almost all of the single stories snapped by Brandon. Of all the other accounts I follow on Twitter or Instagram why do we not allow ourselves to go that deep? How much is too much, what is the etiquette for exposing your feelings on social media? What are the emotions that are actually rewarded and to which degree are they allowed?

There are only three social networks that I use heavily thus I can speak of: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. (Small shoutout to the new app launched by Vine's creator: Byte, it looks fun and much Vine a-like, I'm @marting there. I missed the tik-tok train, I know).

Scrolling through Facebook with all my friends and family, and let's face it: people I've met once and I am too lazy to delete, my Facebook feed has all types of posts there. I can recognize the people that like to present things that make them feel proud like winning races or some videos or pics of hobbies they might have or family related. Then there is the meme culture which always exposes something funny, almost always through sarcasm. But then there is the more troublesome part of the Facebook feed, at least for me, because I find it controversial and pointless: Political discussion and news sharing.

On political Facebook you can usually see how good of an echo chamber the feed results are. Since left wing or right wing will almost always be presented to the correct audience and get some exposure and likes and almost never become too controversial or create actual discussions on the comments. But the emotional limit to sharing something on Facebook seems to be close to watercooler talk but with extended friends and family. You just scratch the surface of what makes you comfortable, what makes you happy and what definitely upsets you. But without going way too deep into the subjects, you just scratch the surface. There is a lot to be careful about since your family will be reading about it. You don't want to expose too many emotions there. For me, it's something like having brunch with some colleagues, some friends, and a couple cousins and aunts. But also the brunch is being video recorded and you know your parents will watch it later so you have to be careful there too.

Political Twitter is something for the books, movies should be made of it. That is a harsh place to be. But once again the political agenda and sports are top discussions here in Mexico and I find it fascinating to explore, sometimes. Since Twitter does not offer the same kind of echo chamber protection that Facebook does, you can certainly find always some really harsh discussion on the top or most popular posts of a search or a trending topic. Almost all the time the responses are emotional (hate being the most relevant emotion) and not very deliberately.

Regular day-to-day twitter is surprisingly good. Definitely the one I enjoy the most, to be honest. Yet whenever something truly magnificent happens all Twitter will join regarding that matter. Today was a sad day because Kobe Bryant, a magnificent basketball player, died. And almost all hashtags were made in his honor of people mourning with reasons for his tragic death. But whenever there is not an existing agenda, you get to curate whatever you were going to follow and your stream of tweets will be highly focused on your interests. That allows you to focus while blocking the other part of the world, which is impossibly huge.

On Instagram I think it is pretty clear that whatever the original intention for the social network was at the beginning nowadays the whole purpose of it seems like it is to show off. Sharing something on Instagram that it's not lifestyle related seems like a waste of exposure. I think the stories paradigm allows some more mundane concepts to be shared and maybe exposed and regarded. But they do disappear as quickly as they were snapped. I can't even recall most of the concepts I see there. Mostly those are always places and food though. Since most of the people in their twenties and thirties are hooked here (in Mexico) seems like the default for the social media experience for adults. Nice adventures, some good food, but not much thought or ideas shared there to be honest.

A small niche social media I found and enjoy a lot: Youtube comments. Youtube comments vary way too much on whatever the video you are watching is about. But I found it to be pretty interesting what is going on there. Videos on jazz albums tend to be amazingly good and wholesome. People there tend to be open and share more related music. People on trending tech product videos tend to have some pretty childish humour like myself, and I can relate so well. This tends to be something that presents like-minded people together but for a brief moment only since the videos can only last so much more than 10 minutes maybe. And there is no way to truly extend the conversation or make something out of this since personal Youtube profileis contain the bare minimum info to exist. Unless you are trying to create a channel you won't be adding much to your profile. Maybe the comments and opinions on videos could be of value there.

It has been resonating very much lately that the future of social media are small groups on any messaging platform. I can recall Path from the 2010's as a solid effort onto these but the urge for less noise was still not there. I have not been aware of any other great effort to create the paradigm of small tribes in apps of any sort. Maybe that's the correct way of thinking of it. Something out of localism, something that resembles tribes. Recently we had the Threads app by Instagram that was basically Instagram functionality but only for the "Close Friends" part of your followers. But we need something that empowers beyond whatsapp ability to connect with neighbors and local business. Whenever something social is about to happen in my life it always comes in the form of a whatsapp group as well. In China there is WeChat but if America is going to work like I think they do, we will prefer something decentralized. Something specific for the job. Not sure what could suffice but it could be in the form of video calls and audios, maybe audios will do it. A group to dump voice messages or create videocalls with locals near you or the group of friends of your choice, always joined by a certain topic that unite you.

Social media and having a phone all the time with you allows for a new kind of interconnected world that was nowhere to be ever seen before. If something weird is happening in your neighborhood one of the first instincts will be to pull out the phone and start recording with your camera. Then it can get shared in seconds. Whenever we find something cool, we can share it instantly with our beloved or our different tribes online. If we find something unpleasant or sad worthy of sharing the feeling as well. But where to share it seems to carry a complex train of thought in current society. Depending on how intimate what you want to share will be you will decide where to post it. If something is super intimate it's almost certain that it will be shared on a messaging platform instead of the bigger networks. Maybe networks need to shrink in order for us to share with confidence with our true "close friends".

Thanks to Arturo Castillo, Alejandro Zepeda, Alejandro Abarca and Luis Rodriguez for reading drafts of this.

More Essays