Fight­ing jeal­ousy in an age of vir­tual spray


For bet­ter or worse, In­sta­gram is chang­ing the game.

I’LL BE THE FIRST to ad­mit: I spend too much of my life on In­sta­gram. Any time my brain wan­ders from the task at hand, be it painfully mun­dane or frus­trat­ingly dif­fi­cult, I reach for my phone, swipe right, and tap that lit­tle car­toon cam­era. As a mat­ter of fact, I checked In­sta­gram three times while writ­ing those first two sen­tences. I’m not proud of it, but I sus­pect I’m not the only one with such a bad habit.

My love af­fair with In­sta­gram co­in­cided with the be­gin­ning of a real-life love af­fair. I tend to avoid tech­no­log­i­cal trends un­til the last minute, not out of any sense of hip­ster su­pe­ri­or­ity, but more out of a to­tal lack of in­ter­est. My phone usu­ally stays on the old­est ver­sion of its op­er­at­ing sys­tem un­til it shuts down, but the guy I was en­am­ored with, a pho­tog­ra­pher, en­cour­aged me to try it out. “It’s just a fun way to edit and share pic­tures,” he said. “But what’s it for?” I asked in­sis­tently. “What is any type of so­cial me­dia for?” he said. Good point. This was back when In­sta­gram forced the user to take pic­tures in the app it­self—you couldn’t take pho­tos with an­other cam­era and up­load them—so it was more about the mo­ments the pic­tures rep­re­sented, not the pic­tures them­selves, hence “in­sta.” Qual­ity didn’t re­ally mat­ter, be­cause you were just go­ing to slap a dras­ti­cally toned fil­ter over it, re­sult­ing in a heavy-handed im­age that would make Ansel Adams roll over in his grave. You shared ex­pe­ri­ences as they hap­pened, not weeks or months later. In those early days, I would sit and wait for my love in­ter­est to like my pho­tos, be­cause out of my whop­ping 36 fol­low­ers, his like was the only one I cared about.

Now, In­sta­gram is a bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness with more than 300 mil­lion users, and I fol­low 1,359 of them, from an ac­count for my friend’s liquor store back in Alabama (“Grab a bot­tle of the fa­mous Pop­corn Sut­ton moon­shine!”) to an ac­count called FluffyPack that’s just a con­stant stream of cute pup­pies and piglets. But the ma­jor­ity of ac­counts I fol­low are fel­low climbers who post en­vi­ous im­ages of soaring sand­stone walls, top-down try­hard faces, and vans parked in front of breath­tak­ing vis­tas. I wish I could say that I see these pho­tos, smile, and think, “Oh, she must be hav­ing so much fun!” But au con­traire, my friend.

When I see im­ages that are par­tic­u­larly rad, my head burns with jeal­ousy and my stom­ach sinks with the thought: I want that. Some­times it’s a place I re­ally want to go, or some­times it’s a girl climb­ing harder than me, but most of­ten it’s sim­ply a pic­ture of some­one climb­ing out­side when I’m stuck in­side. My melo­dra­matic brain ig­nores the fact that I am lucky enough to climb al­most con­stantly, both for fun and for my job.

“Ugh, does she have to post an­other pic­ture of climb­ing in Bishop?!” I re­cently said with a whine that should only be as­so­ci­ated with do­ing your taxes and eat­ing lima beans.

“Julie, you were just in France for two weeks!” my boyfriend, the afore­men­tioned love in­ter­est whom I blame for my In­sta­habit, re­sponded. We were on the drive home from the air­port, where he had picked me up from a “work” trip where I climbed alpine lines in Cha­monix, multi-pitch sport in the Ver­don Gorge, and 400 me­ters of lime­stone over the Mediter­ranean in Les Calan­ques. Not even an hour after a life­time trip to three Euro­pean climb­ing mec­cas, I was al­ready re­sent­ing some­body else hav­ing fun.

Jeal­ousy comes quickly when you only see the most beau­ti­ful, per­fectly edited, care­fully cu­rated mo­ments. We all do it. It’s hu­man na­ture to want peo­ple to see only the best of you. When was the last time you had just a sin­gle photo taken of your­self—selfie or oth­er­wise—and then moved on to some­thing else? The in­ven­tion of dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy af­forded us the abil­ity to take mul­ti­ple

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