For someone who doesn't personally have an Instagram, the laughability of such a situation seems endless. Laughable largely because if it weren't for working in media, I'm beyond sure, beyond positive that I would have not the slightest clue what hashtags do, why a geotag is important, or what an Instagram story is (though since I've never actually updated my App, I still can't really tell you what that is).
You see, I use Instagram solely for work. A cultural research tool that currently can't be beat when it comes to keeping users up to date on the small and large goings on. It's this bizarre little microcosm, a blueprint for reading everything from the trending movements of the politically discontent to the foodie favorites people can't stop thinking about.
For many, it's a personal instrument of expression. For others, it's a business. From lifestyle bloggers who spend hours styling their life, picking just the right outfit pose, to foodie photographers whose carefully timed posts are designed to look so disgustingly delicious you could eat your hand off.
And so I went to Milk & Cookies Bakery - a charming, sugar scented nook folded right into a most quiet corner of the West Village, for what was a fittingly themed fete of cookie decorating. And really, who could say no to such an invitation? Hosted by our favorite food hunter herself, @EatingNYC, tables were set with no shortage of colorful, kill-me-now-before-the-sugar-does sweets, and pre-made cookie dough bricks set for molding. But of course, this wasn't a crowd that came sans their share of extras.
iPhone tripods set for grabbing that perfect angle. Heavy lensed cameras for going in close on that money shot. With a childish thrill, everyone was excited to get decorating their cookies. M&Ms, or fruity pebbles? Cranberries or coconut? Surely, you've found yourself in some sort of similar Sophie's Choice. However here, more important than the taste of your combos was their photogenic quality. "Beige is bad," proclaimed one of the Instagrammer guests, folding all the colorful bits and bobs he could into his dough. Who would think of such a thing? Not that it's wrong, because let me tell you, I took some horribly unappetizing photos of some pale-ass cookies that day.
Still, the funniness of this community couldn't be lost. And it is a community. Basically all of the "handles" knew each other, chatting away the time, talking shop over a table of spilled chocolate chips, munching on pretzels. Unsurprisingly lovely people. All not-so-surprisingly thin. Perhaps you'd imagine a person who regularly posts bowls of melted cheese stretchier than a workout band, or three-story sandwiches packed with fries and meats, to be a bit heftier around the edges? Not so.
Because, ever the business people that they are, you'd best believe a deal of the time their photos either aren't theirs (supplied by the restaurant or their PR team), or they were paid to pay a visit to the spot to grab that perfect Boomerang shot, maybe taking just a bite or two before heading out to grab the next must-have dish. Not to say that they don't appreciate their field, as many view this opportunity to travel and present their followers new, interesting things to explore to be a dream. One which came out of a casual passion or side project, few having originally set out to build brands or businesses out of social media photos. But still have they revolutionized the hospitality industry. How else would the world have come to communally salivate over Black Tap's milkshake messes, only to then stop what they were doing and line themselves round the block just to take part? How often do I myself curate a dining article rounding up some of the city's most exciting places for brunch, birthdays, romantic dinners and more using their foodie adventures as guides? No longer must you crane your neck at the tables round you in a restaurant to see what looks good, as they've carefully edited the menu into a geotagged album full of everything from healthy dishes to cheat day eats.
And so interesting was it to see this collection of brands so removed from their personal selves, all identifying as their pseudonym handles, casually playing about in the organized fun of their fellow followable friend. Swapping secrets to social success, all the while careful to press the self-preservational importance of unplugging. Do they bite the App hand that feeds them? Absolutely not. But do they get how horribly addictive and empty the mindless scrolling of photos can be? Yes.
All in all, it's a world that might surprise some of you - this food influencer life. Or, at the very least, make you think twice about the well-lit, too good-looking to be true scenes that make you forget your diet.