Discover more from SAFFRON, by mehrnaz
💌 2011: An Internet Odyssey 💌
It feels like an overdose state has quickly become my baseline.
In December 2021, I deleted my Instagram accounts swearing I would never go back. I went cold turkey, sober for 10 months, just needed one small hit and boom– all down the drain. In September 2022, I redownloaded the app. I reached a crossroad between healing years of self-image distortion and the privilege of freely spreading information. I chose to reenter this toxic relationship blindly, furiously, and imperfectly.
As a veteran Zoomer, I had a secret Facebook when I was 11 after I googled “what year would I have to be born to be 18”, entered that year in, and hoped for the best. Before I knew how to spell “Wednesday” I was flooding my brain with TROLOLOLOL and Chocolate Rain. I convinced my mom I needed a desktop computer in my room for “homework” and watched Charlie the Unicorn until like 2am every single night. I didn’t really care about tv or movies, I was just perpetually online.
These 2010s were a notable shift in popular culture– rather than talking about tv shows, we were talking about memes. Rather than favorite celebrities, we had favorite Youtubers. Pop culture was becoming Internet culture, so if you wanted to stay in the loop, you stayed logged in, liking, disliking, commenting, posting, reposting– all while logged in to our online profiles. Profiles that identified ourselves to others.
Since those early days, there was never a moment without my social media identity reflected back to me. And looking back, I can see the strains of this digital identity. My old posts lead me to so many questions: Why are these the moments I choose to share? Do my aesthetic shifts mean I’m authentically changing or I’m artificially adapting to fit in existing molds? Are these posts the real me, or the me I want people to think I am? Do people see me as these posts, or these posts as me? What led me to take these photos– joy, fear, creativity, arrogance, vanity, or conformity? Sometimes I feel like my Instagram is alive.
Being so online wasn’t always so mainstream. So, alone, I would be comparing my page with others, mindlessly scrolling for hours, unchecked jealousy fueling my self loathing and making me hate myself more with every perfect shot, face, and body the algorithm was feeding me. Why can’t I take pictures like that? Why can’t I look like that? Why am I NOT THAT? I wasn’t jealous of unachievable magazine covers or runway models, I was jealous of the micro influencer who was “just like me”, but just so much better at being the me I was trying to be. Now that we’re all online, even the cool kids, this has gotten a whole lot worse.
I was on a subway on my way to work one day in December of 2021, the only standing passenger in the two subway cars. Every other passenger shoulder to shoulder in a seat, heads bowed at the same exact angle staring at their screens. Every single person. The image was bleak and foreboding. Then, on my walk to work, pedestrians were in this same shape. The drivers on the road. Customers at the coffee shop. Dog walkers on their stroll. Friends side by side. Lovers holding hands. I got scared of the world I was seeing and my role in this subservience.
Yeah, no shit we’re addicted to our phones, but that’s just the way it is…
But what if…that’s not the way it has to be? Right then and there, I deleted my accounts and swore I wouldn’t go back.
At first, this uncharted adulthood made me fidget and uncomfortable. I lost connections with friends I would only contact through DM’s and felt left out of many social and cultural moments. I felt out of the loop, out of the inside jokes and memes that made me so comfortable for so long. The instant gratification disappeared which required my brain to rewire to less instant forms of satisfaction. It took some time to readjust, but it wasn’t that bad. Sooner than later I felt a positive shift. More peace, more downtime, and more gratitude to be honest. So why did I go back?
As often as I would refresh the few Iranian news sites in September 2022, I knew I wasn't getting the whole picture. I wanted footage from the ground. Footage from the people. Plus, there was so much I wanted to say, so much I wanted to share, so much I wanted to be heard. I know for many people in my community, I’m the only Iranian person they know in real life, and followed online. I had to choose what mattered more to me: getting this news to the most amount of people I could, or maintaining this distance that was making me a better person.
Now, social media was larger than my personal toxic relationship with it. It became a responsibility and a privilege. It became a privilege to mindlessly scroll through accounts getting news and videos out of the country from the comfort of my home. I had to clarify mainstream news incorrect and biased reporting. I needed to share the real footage from the ground that Americans didn’t know how to find. It sounds like a big responsibility for one person because it is. I felt like I became a journalist overnight. Any semblance of a healthy relationship with social media felt so fucking stupid and selfish and I felt like I couldn’t do anything but see what was going on. Losing my mind but I didn’t care. This is what I could do, so I was doing it.
My eyes would be bloodshot and I wouldn’t get out of bed until like 4PM because I was scrolling since 9AM. My eyes would hurt and I wasn't taking care of my body to the point of illness. And I can’t lie, it wasn’t all just about Iran. I was right back to where I was a year ago. But even in that state, it felt like “stepping back” was such a stupid luxury that I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to step back because there was so much information and I wanted to take in all of it and my own health came second. I was willing to make the sacrifice and feel some pain. To notice how coddled you are and pinch yourself a little bit is important.
So here I am, reflecting on six months back on the apps, sharing and promoting everything Iran related I have the capacity for, and I can’t help but ask, is this even making any difference? Are the people in Iran actually affected whether or not I post anything? The answer is yes, it makes a difference, there’s clear evidence that it does. Prisoners get released, executions are postponed, and statements get written all based on social pressure online. Yet, still, keeping up this sustained fight hasn’t been easy. I look at more content unrelated to Iran. I mindlessly scroll ignoring the time limits and get nothing out of it in return. I’m back to memes, pretty people, and targeted ads on hyper speed– consuming so much, so fast. Meme! Skincare tips! Pilates workout! Meme! Being an Iranian joke! Makeup tip! Meme! Outfit inspo! Healthy Recipe! Makeup! Artwork! Meme! Ad! Skincare! Restaurant recommendation! Skincare! Meme! Something about Iran! Ad! Workout!
It feels like an overdose state has quickly become my baseline.
I don’t think there’s a happy ending here, because it really feels like I’ve relapsed. It sounds silly, but tell me, is it? Social media has given me information, friendship, art, and resources at the price of my sanity. For now, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to take. I can’t delete it again. I just– I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. I just can’t. I’m a high functioning addict and I just want some damn balance. Social media has been shaping writers and artists in very interesting ways I want to know about, so I want to join these conversations without tying my art and worth to these platforms. Here's to trying my best to consciously engage.