New normal

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Following the massive disruption the digital revolution brought during the past years, when everything offline turned online, the lines have finally started to blur. We no longer have clear boundaries between online and offline — they start to merge beautifully as part of our new reality. While, somehow, it’s a natural evolution, there are also some great pioneers that are bridging the two worlds, forcing us to think into new boxes, new paradigms.

One of the pioneers is Instagram. It probably deserves the social network label more than any other. However, I’m referring to a different Instagram than that of selfies and food pictures. At its best, Instagram does not (only) connect us to our friends. It connects us to strangers from all over the world, with whom the only thing we have in common (at first, at least) is the same appreciation of the things around. Seeing daily beauty through the eyes of a 17-year old Indonesian girl or though those of an Australian photographer can be soul feeding.

Yet, this is its online core. But Instagram is one of the few who are taking things outside. Offline. From where I stand, its Weekly Hashtag Projects are one of the most amazing things that are engaging communities at the moment. Instagram gives its users a shooting theme, and manages to get them outside, in search for a good shot that fits it. One is able to see, live, through the hashtag, the same thing – in thousands of different places over the world, shot through thousands of different perspectives. It gives a wonderful feeling of being connected, beyond online, to the beautiful things and people on the planet.

Moreover, Instagram encourages its users to meet. And the great thing is – they do meet. It’s okay for one to say “Hey, I’m coming to your city next week, care to show me around?”. The boundaries are extremely loose. This kind of interaction seems natural and safe; it’s somehow like being a single girl at a gay club – the feeling that everyone is trustworthy and genuinely nice. The whole sense of openness probably comes from the fact that every day, by sharing the pictures you take, you’re sharing bits of yourself in one of the most honest ways. It’s almost instinctive to treat the people in the community as friends.

I’ve discovered wonderful places on Instagram. I’ve met great people that turned into friends (and boyfriends, haha). It educated me into taking better photos, and into only accepting in my feed things that make me visually happy. It’s addictive, but it’s the only addiction that doesn’t make me feel guilty – I never, ever feel like I’m wasting my time.

I know Gen X-ers and even Y-ers that consider this kind of connecting strange, to say the least. However, the digital culture is transforming our identities in some of the deepest ways. The ball is in our court – we can let the digital turn us into a meme addicted, Facebook stalkerish kind, and consider that the norm, or we can use these tools to enrich our lives with things that were truly unimaginable 20 years ago. I love the times we live in.

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