Until this summer, I had come to believe there were two kinds of people in this world: those who used the photo-sharing and micro-blogging website Instagram, and those who boycotted that cesspit of vanity and airbrushed reality.
In case it’s not immediately obvious, I counted myself very firmly in the second camp.
It’s true, I did open an Instagram account back in 2012 to see what all the fuss was about.
But, after posting a few lacklustre pictures from a Washington DC trip, I soon tired of the thing, realising my primary motivation was a not particularly altruistic desire to rub it in everyone’s faces what a lovely time I was having. Not to mention what a well-travelled and cultured person I am.
I also harboured some deep concerns – in no particular order – about the displacement of work for my professional photographer colleagues, the wisdom of continually updating total strangers about one’s immediate whereabouts, and the higher levels of jealousy, anxiety and depression among users.
Not for me the fake smiles, pert boobs and dazzling teeth of the Insta-generation, I concluded.
If a measure of a community is the calibre of its popularly elected leaders – and let us hope, for all our sakes, that it is not – what can we learn of Instagram?
Today, the unrivalled queen of Instagram – with 130 million followers – is an otherwise diminutive American starlet, Selena Gomez, who is joined in the top 10 by no less than two Kardashians, and Beyonce and Justin Bieber.
It is heartening indeed, however, that the unrivalled king of Instagram in Australia is the enormously handsome and apparently affable Hugh Jackman, with 15 million followers.
Anyway, time moves on, and this summer I decided to give Instagram another go.
I blame the glorious nature of our dazzling Australian landscape in summer. The ubiquitous Aussie tricolour scene of white sand, deep blue waters and cloud-speckled sky.
And so Instagram became something of a travel diary for my carefree summer holiday, as I snapped pics of beaches, jetties and wineries.
Not for me the fake smiles, pert boobs and dazzling teeth of the Insta-generation.
But it wasn’t long before the camera turned inwards and the quest for a perfect selfie began. My first – and final, so far – selfie was accompanied by a plea for followers to share their tips on perfecting the art.
For the similarly unskilled among you, word is that it is bad form to look surprised in your own selfies, and that generally one ought to “pout more and smile less”.
But the most interesting side-effect of my Instagram adventure was yet to come, and went something like this.
First, let it be known that I am no beach babe. Friends are fond of joking that I am the Cancer Council CEO in waiting, timing my outings by the SunSmart App, and nary setting foot outside the house between the summer UV hours of 8.40am to 5.10pm.
And so I found myself sitting on the couch one scorching day when my phone rang. It went something like this
Friend: “Come to the beach!”
Me: “No thank you. You know I don’t like getting sunburnt. And I really must mop the floors, or, at the very least, binge-watch a few Netflix shows.”
Friend: “But Jess, if you come you can post about it on Instagram, and people will think you’re a very active and dynamic person.”
Me: “I’ll be there in 20 mins.”
Some friends just “get” you, you know?
And so, instead of sitting on the couch, fearing the sun, I got out there. I got in it.
We went down to one of the city’s most lovely swimming spots, where all the bright young things go and emerge Daniel Craig in James Bond-like, from the emerald waters shaking their beach-tousled hair.
Me, I used the scene to perform that most undignified of traditional Aussie traditional dances, the swimming costume change towel shimmy, before squealing as I entered the deliciously cool waters and later emerging shrieking at seaweed, stubbing my toe on submerged rocks and clutching my slipping cossie.
But I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Because it turns out that the places and activities that make for great Instagram pictures also make for a great life.
If the quest for the best Instagram shot forces us to be more present, more conscious observers of our lives, and to look, eagle-eyed, for those moments that make it sing – and in the process encourage us to seek them out – then it can’t be that bad, surely?
Of course, the picture I chose to post was of the idyllic Aussie beach and not my ungraceful entry and emergence from it. And I spent a good portion of my afternoon checking my phone compulsively to see if anyone had liked it.
I guess that’s the truth about Instagram: it presents only the most picturesque aspects of life. No one is perfect, and no one should believe what they see on Instagram is anything but life through a rose-tinted lens, hiding from view the reality of pimples, wrinkles and sagging skin.
But it’s also true that life affords us all some glimpses at pure perfection – as rare as they may be – and those moments are to be celebrated, and shared.
You can follow Jess on Instagram at @jess_irvine_pics