“When in doubt, check ’em out – GO COMPARE” – if anyone hasn’t heard or seen insurance company GoCompare.com’s advert, you are, indeed, very lucky. For the rest of us this pesky earworm – nay, relentless slug – lingers like Walker’s cheese and onion crisps.
But there’s one word in there that’s gone a little further into my grey matter – ‘compare’. For all its frothy coffees and perky peonies, the Internet, specifically Instagram, is unashamedly a place of comparison.
Seven years ago @papa_pukka and I had approximately 19 nice people in our lives (now it’s more 9; we had to cull 10 due to sheer exhaustion and lack of chat) to compare ourselves against – a troupe of like-minded folk who might have a Topshop cardie you fancy, but it’s more a fleeting ‘nice, might buy that but probably won’t, let’s get pissed’.
Now we’re in a world where there are bucket loads (specifically 456 million active users on Instagram) of people out there with much better stuff/ friends/ babies/ food/ Scandi chic delicately-ringed fingers/ lives than you. You are living in a comparative drug den, feeding your child Dr Pepper from a shoe with only the faint buzz of the rapidly-declining-in-popularity QVC channel in the background. Or so it seems.
The reality is you’ve just spotted a pair of rogue undies fermenting under your bed or unearthed a sodden, fully-sheathed cucumber from the fridge. Nothing dramatic, but with someone’s powder pink SMEG fridge beaming out across your feed, you can’t help but wonder if they, too have soggy cucumber disintegrating beneath the rucola. You invariably come to the conclusion that they don’t and that makes you sad as you dispose of the limp, stinking vine vegetable in your shitty, squeaky bin.
It’s natural. Other than a few really good people like that guy on the news who saved a penguin, we’re not by nature programmed to support people all the time.
“You get more explicit and implicit cues of people being happy, rich, and successful from a photo than from a status update,” says Hanna Krasnova of Humboldt University Berlin, co-author of Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat To Users. “A photo on Instagram can very powerfully provoke immediate social comparison, and that can trigger feelings of inferiority.”
We are a social media world of comparers – an entire multi-billion pound fashion industry revolves on us following ‘influencers’ like lemmings and ensuring we’re rocking that neon pom pom chapeau with extendable ears – ensuring we’re ‘keeping up’ with the trends.
Who hasn’t seen a selfie on Instagram and scoured the background in the manner of Poirot for clues of lifestyle choice? A wanton, bobbly sock in the background offers up some relief, whereas a pristine, cream carpet embellished with an unopened Whistles bag can cause sub-conscious alerts of ‘need more stuff; distressed with current life choices’.
And this isn’t some massive two-faced bitch fest where we’re all liking, merrily commenting, while secretly spitting into our Tetleys. (Calling a spade a spade the latter does very occasionally happen, but it isn’t the overriding sentiment, so shall be glided over). It’s more nuanced than that – sure there’s moments of ‘for fecks sake, less of the pouting’ (edges away from the Camille Walala wall). But ultimately it’s about comparison – comparing followers, comparing photos, comparing success and ultimately comparing lives.
While there’s nothing terrible about comparison per se – good to know what’s out there; can be inspiring; healthy competition etc. – it’s not from my experience all sunshine and perfectly-positioned roses. It’s not going to help you on that 4.13am breastfeed when your mammaries are leaking into your IKEA Önskedrom cushion and your undercarriage resembles a pack of Sellotaped-together bacon lardons.
‘Appreciate’ is as close as I got to an alternative. When those photos from the US flow in at 5.12am as the fashion mavens are all wafting about New York papping their lattes and you’re slobbering into a bowl of Nescafe, it helped me to do one of two things – appreciate or unfollow.
Depending on my hormonal state of mind, those two words saved me from a world of comparison and, perhaps hints of depression.
Because in a world of powder pink SMEG fridges, it’s important to bear in mind that sometimes those actually living life have a limp cucumber fermenting in the underbelly of their vegetable drawer.
Go compare, indeed.