There’s no escaping the photo-sharing app. But are we in the midst of a great cultural leap or a retrograde step? Nick Faulkes investigates
If life has taught me anything, it is that it is foolhardy in the extreme to be definitive about anything, or for that matter to express even a suggestion of something definitive. When one writes such song lyrics as ‘Hope I die before I get old’, one does rather create a hostage to fortune.
I have come to believe that our lives are predetermined — only not necessarily in the sense that the Supreme Being has an individual life mapped out for each of us. Instead, I believe that as we progress through life most of us conform to stereotypes. And so I have become the person that I fought so long and so hard not to be: the middle-aged man who uses technology invented by and aimed at young people who end every sentence, even if expressing condolences to the recently bereaved at a funeral, with an upward inflection of the voice, and who seem to spend their days in artisan coffee shops crouched over their mobile phones and tablets like medieval monks in a scriptorium, wearing skinny jeans that sag down to their knees rather than cassocks.
My slightly shameful secret is that I have, mirabile dictu, discovered Instagram; well, truth be told, my younger son Freddie discovered it for me. Having imbibed the catechistic orthodoxy that in order to achieve anything today you need an online presence, and as my book about the French Expressionist painter Bernard Buffet will be out in a few months, I felt I ought to familiarise myself with the rudiments of online propagandising. So having bragged smugly about how I do not do Facebook and don’t get Twitter, I find, somewhat to my embarrassment, that I am becoming addicted to the fulfilling pastime of taking rather poor photographs of things and placing them into the ether, then peeking voyeuristically into the lives of others.
The danger is, of course, that I will end up living my life entirely vicariously through the exciting existences of others. For instance, I follow Lapo Elkann. I like Lapo — I tend to bump into him a bit in Italy. I know that he likes to lead a full life. While I am still lounging around in bed waiting for my manservant to bring me my first hot chocolate of the day (a long wait, since the domestic staffing arrangements at Pleasure Dividend Towers are not all they might be), he will already have driven a Ferrari in matte camouflage the entire length of Italy, launched a new business, been fitted for half a dozen Rubinacci suits and probably squeezed in a visit to the tattoo parlour. However, I was not prepared for the amount of stuff he posts: old cars, new cars, scantily clad women wearing his sunglasses, pictures of him on yachts, pictures of him at airports, pictures of his feet resting on the seat opposite him in a business jet…
His is clearly a life of herculean dimensions. Just posting all that stuff would be a full-time job and if, as I suspect, there is an editorial staff assisting him in his social media presence, then I am thinking of hiring a staff to look at it all for me, having one person solely devoted to the business of liking photographs on my behalf and posting those confusing lines of miniature hieroglyphs that I have learned to call emojis. I cannot tell yet whether using pictograms to communicate is a great cultural leap forward or a retrograde step. Part of me feels that we are regressing to the cave art that adorns the walls of Lascaux or Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc (albeit without the sense of transcendental mysticism that attends looking at artworks created by the hands of men tens of thousands of years ago). The other part of me understands that a thumbs-up, a smiling face, a mortarboard, a piece of fruit or whatever means the same in any language.
Happily I am saved from contemplating the impending collapse of several millennia of human development by the tug of my telephone beckoning me to see just what, say, Hamish Bowles and Cara Delevingne are up to.
I like to think that I would stop short of actually using Instagram to spy on the fragrant Ms Kim Kardashian, as I have so far managed to muddle along for half a century without knowing anything about her. However, I have learned never to say never (I am sure there is a self-cancelling oxymoron in there somewhere) — and, come to think of it, a picture of Ms Kardashian engrossed in the pages of Bernard Buffet: The Invention of the Modern Mega-artist might be just the thing to give sales a little fillip.