Social media crystallizes this dynamic in a particularly performative way. Not just because it reinforces binaries of taste (are you earnest or ironic? into contour or no makeup? pro-filter or pro-flash?), but because its entire value proposition is about asserting who you are in comparison, or contrast, to other people. This is why I think there’s some truth to the idea that Instagram is a playground for the insecure. Who else is more desperate to find an in-group, and what better way to do it?

It feels like I’m getting at something obvious. But maybe that’s why it’s worth getting at—I think we’ve become so attuned to what certain things say about us online that I’m not sure we’re even conscious of the implications anymore. Or worse, we are, and that’s why it’s so addicting, because we’re embroiled in an endless digital game of chasing confidence and running from feeling inadequate. Doesn’t that kind of sound like being on Instagram? This is probably why I feel so critical of people trying to assert their superiority online—it makes me blatantly face what I’ve always suspected about these virtual spaces, and especially my role in perpetuating them.

I’ll admit I’m kind of saying two things here: That everyone on Instagram is insecure and that I’m insecure for thinking that. But I think that tension is one of the central tenets of engaging with social media—you’re never quite sure if everyone else is crazy or you are. Maybe we’re all a little bit of both, mixing together our more authentic and inauthentic qualities until we can’t remember which is which. I think the performative aspect of maintaining a social profile—the choosing of the photos, the crafting of the words—will always serve as a kind of filter on our lives, whether we’re the filtering types or not.