Ever since my colleague pointed out that I can check how many hours I spend on a particular app in a day or week on my iPhone (under “Battery” in Settings), I’ve grown more cognizant of just what I’m doing on Instagram—by far my most used app and, as a visual person, my preferred online community.
I’ve written once about how I think Instagram can be productive, namely by using the “Collections” feature to track and organize ideas and inspirations. But lately I’ve come across another use that I don’t consider a total waste of time.
First, there’s already some writing about how people can follow Instagram location tags to plan travels (i.e. find cool spots to go) and how “Instagrammable” corners of our cities can be a mechanism of placemaking, leading folks out into the world, rubbing shoulders with people they might not otherwise have the reason to meet. (The more cynical take is, of course, that new commercial establishments are being designed specifically to be Instagrammable so people will come, whether it’d be hip new restaurants and shops or “experience-driven” attractions like the Museum of Ice Cream or Color Factory.)
But what about finding old places?
In my case, I regularly find myself browsing the location tags of places I’ve lived before—often China, because that’s what feels the most out of reach, and especially my birthplace, Chengdu, because that’s what feels the most like a different lifetime ago.
I browse Chengdu tags in hopes of recognizing places I know…to get a taste of what life is like there now…to keep my own memories fresh-—if I keep making those visual-neural connections, then those places and my experiences of them stay real, right?
At the same time, the more I look, the more the city also feels foreign. Like, that was definitely a different life—except it’s not.
As a “third culture kid” of sorts, I find this ambiguity to be familiar and good brain food.
Let’s go back to my old world via Instagram, shall we…
Top image: Sichuan University, August 2015.