The Problem With #LiveAuthentic

Beneath the hipster/lumbersexual conformity of today’s neo-naturalists is something very: a hunger for meaning.


These past few weeks, @SocalityBarbie called our collective Instagram bluff. If you haven’t heard of @SocalityBarbie, you can learn more here. Her single facetious Instagram account has an entire generation of Instagrammers thinking twice before they post a photo of a latte, or a caption about being grateful, or using the hashtag #liveauthentic. Well, at least I am.

If you pay much attention to Instagram, especially a certain aspect of it, all @SocalityBarbie did was point out the obvious: We’re not as original as we’d like to think we are. Actually, all those photos we post with the tag #liveauthentic look exactly like all the others. Morning coffee held in homespun mittens? Check. Look at this leaf I found on my hike? Check. Look at me on this beach while I post an unrelated inspirational quote? Check. You’d think we’re all a bunch of lumbersexual/neo-hippie lemmings, hoping that someone out there thinks we’re actually unique. But I think there’s more to it.

Aside from the obvious trendiness and even consumerism of it all, I think @SocalityBarbie exposed something deeper: a profound-if sometimes misguided-longing for authenticity in our generation. The reason @SocalityBarbie’s posts pack a sting is that all of us would like to think we’re unique and creative.

Many of us millennials on Instagram grew up in the suburbs. We played in front of cookie-cutter houses, in a world exponentially overflowing with mass-produced plastic crap. Everything from the burger we ordered to the shirt on our back was exactly the same as the one a teenager in a town across the country had-as long that town was large enough to have a Target or an Urban Outfitters. Now we’ve traded our Air Jordans for vintage-looking hiking boots and Birkenstocks, and advanced from sugary Starbucks Frappuccinos to single-origin pour-overs at the local shop. Kinfolk is to us what Better Homes and Gardens was for our parents.

Some might argue that we’ve simply graduated to more sophisticated brands, more cultivated trends. But I see a common thread: A desire for things with a story. Maybe it’s just what’s cool right now, but I think it’s something more. We’re tired of the generic. We crave things with a patina, the musty smell of something that’s well used because it’s beautiful and useful and lasting. Something classic. Something that has meaning. We’re tired of throwaway everything.

I met a guy a few years ago, an authentic mover and shaker in the slow- and local-foods movement, who admitted to me that he was so afraid of looking like everyone else, or trying too hard to be cool, that he actually erred in the opposite direction on purpose. He took pains to never wear something exactly like what was trendy, to wear glasses that were distinctly out of fashion, and to ride a bike that was decidedly dorky. He was such a pure example of the drive for originality. Most of us fall somewhere else along the spectrum-and I think that’s okay.

The point is, we all want to somehow communicate to the world something about who we are inside, and the moments and places that feel meaningful to us. No, that handcrafted coffee table sourced from reclaimed barn wood is not necessarily going add meaning to our lives. But if we’re going to bring objects into our world, shouldn’t they be thoughtfully considered objects that bring us some sort of long-term enjoyment? And, no, hiking that super popular trail we saw someone else post about online isn’t like putting up a first ascent. But that doesn’t mean the joy of discovery isn’t fresh and important.

I think we’re tired of feeling disconnected, superficial and cheap. We hope spending $4 on that single-origin pour-over isn’t just a status symbol, but a way for us to feel a connection to the people who grew and roasted the beans, a way to have a more full experience of something we’d be doing every day anyway. The irony is that somehow our collective motion toward a more “authentic” life all began to look the same. It’s the age of the Internet, so of course that’s bound to happen.

I’m sure we could all stand some self-examination, especially when it comes to consumerism and social media: Why do I really want this item? What is my Instagram photo really about? What am I really trying to say with this caption?

But I see in this generation an urge to be doers, makers and discoverers. And maybe the more we actually really do, make and discover-without being motivated by Instagramming-the more we’ll actually authentically diversify. And, if some of it ends up on Instagram, well, it can inspire the rest of us.

 

Contributing editor Hilary Oliver lives in Denver and blogs at The Gription.
Showing 9 comments
  • Dennis
    Reply

    Nice article and perspective. Since I’m an older guy (gasp 49!!! I can’t believe it) and have always been into biking, skiing, climbing, hiking and anything outside my perspective is just to maybe not have to name everything and post so much. A good example there are some local mtb trails where I live that don’t get ridden much. I’ve been riding them for years. I was on a group ride this summer and someone said oh yeah this is the “snake charmer” trail. I was like what? Of course this is what someone called it on Strava. So now this fun but not that extraordinary trail has a name and a segment and now we all have to feel obligated to beat someone else’s time. I don’t know but what’s wrong with just being outside? I admit to doing my own sharing on FB and Intstagram myself but the more I’m out the more I don’t want anything to do with technology. Discovery and adventure is really a lot of fun and for me anyway living “authentic” is maximizing my joy in the outdoors. After all you only get one chance at life and what better way mentally and physically to live.

  • Rick
    Reply

    Another late 40s guy here. I don’t post to Instagram. I do over-post on Facebook. I’ve never done a yoga pose in my life, much less one in nature; I haven’t built a bookshelf from reclaimed wood I found on a beach in Indonesia. I haven’t “invented” a coffee drink that’s essentially just coffee with extract of termite in it (I’m really hoping no one has ever invented such a drink).

    I *have* ridden a motorcycle across the U.S. a few times, trying to find routes that took me through “authentic America.” Guess what? Authentic America is hard to find. Every town looks like every other town: strip malls, fast food chains, big box retail stores. Blech.

    Robert Pirsig in his (overrated) book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was already searching for meaning and authenticity back in the day. It ain’t just a millenial thing.

    So here’s an idea: Find what’s meaningful to you. Don’t share it (right away) on Instagram or what have you. Let it settle. Let it ferment. Like tea that tastes weak because you didn’t let it steep, don’t share your ideas and experiences too quickly. Give them time.

  • Michael
    Reply

    Great article – on point, Phife!

  • Ted
    Reply

    http://thekinspiracy.tumblr.com/ has been examining this for a while. Very scary to see it all together, akin to a burger vs. a slaughterhouse.

  • John
    Reply

    We are social beings. Engagement, posturing, banter are all critical means of allowing us as individuals to be part of a collective. There is necessary vanity, ego led comparison with others. Matched or hopefully exceeded by empathy and compassion. I really try to keep in mind and act on being present, curious and kind. Selfies etc last as long as any babble

  • Matt
    Reply

    I think the last paragraph of this article hits the artisanal nail on the head. Somewhere in the late 70s or early 80s people started moving away from a do-it-yourself attitude and more towards a consumer perspective. This can be seen in the decreasing number of people who can change their own oil or fix a toilet. I think this trend strongly paralleled our society’s move towards disposable purchases, and the advent of the internet where nothing “real” (something you have physically interact with) is actually created.

    As more and more of our social interactions take place on the internet it skews our perception of reality since we are seeing the world through a filtered view that presents us with the “best” of any given category. Instagram makes it seem that *everybody* else on the planet is traveling, or eating amazing meals, or buying cool new stuff. But realistically that is just because there are lots of people on Instagram and they mainly post highlights, you don’t see people posting boring pictures of them on their ass watching tv or sitting in traffic.

    It can be difficult to have pride in your own life when you are comparing it to the filtered and inaccurate view of the world you see online.

    And then I think people try to find a sense of meaning, or uniqueness, or authenticity by searching for the best hand roasted coffee, or the best hand knitted shoelaces, but then they look to the internet for these things and fall back into the same cycle. This is when we start winding up with silly over-optimized products like artisanal firewood, or with everybody dressing the same because they read the same articles on how to dress unique. And since 1) nobody builds things themselves anymore, and 2) anything we build looks like crap compared to what we see on Pinterest, everybody just ends up feeling non-special and bummed.

    We need to accept that the world has 7 billion people in it and that it’s pretty much impossible to be the best at anything or to do something nobody has done before, and that is perfectly ok. The power of the internet is how it connects us, but the downside is that it makes our worlds so much bigger. So… shrink your world back down to a manageable size. Interact with the people you really care about, preferably in person. Don’t compete to have the best on Instagram, you’ll never be able to win. Build things with your own hands, and don’t compare them to the best-of-the-best that you’ll find online. Try to keep life simple and look up from your phone!

  • jim
    Reply

    I liked this article so much i took a selfie of myself reading it!

  • Willie Bailey
    Reply

    GREAT article Hilary!

  • H@mmer
    Reply

    It’s hard to find sympathy for #liveauthentic hipsters searching for “meaning” when they don’t seem to be willing to give up anything to get it. Guess what? Your trendy, superficial, urbanite lifestyle is the opposite of meaning, no matter how many hand-knit sweaters and boutique axes you have on your reclaimed wood shelf.

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