A picture's worth more than 1,000 likes

When aestheticism filters reality

“I love mornings,” my friend said to our group the other week. “I really do, I just can’t do them at all. I’m not a morning person.” 

This statement elicited a good laugh and we questioned how someone who “can’t do” mornings could claim to love them so much. After thinking for a couple of seconds he responded: “I love the aesthetic of mornings.” 

This, in turn, resulted in more laughs and a good number of eye rolls around the circle. 

Upon further reflection, I understand what he meant. Like most people in their early twenties, I’m addicted to my technology. 

I spend most of my waking life looking at a screen and suffer mild anxiety attacks when I lose my phone until I realize that I  was, in fact, holding it the entire time. 

While I wish I could say the time spent on my phone and computer was put to good use, it’s instead mostly spent surfing various social media platforms. On Instagram, I follow plenty of different accounts that share photos of food, travel and brands, whose photos are the root of so much of my own unhappiness. 

Sites like Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest aren’t just marketing goods and services to us outright, they’re selling us on aesthetics alone. 

For instance, there’re hundreds of Instagram accounts by different nature photographers documenting their experiences sea kayaking, rock climbing, cliff jumping, camping etc. And these types of accounts aren’t just limited to individual photographers. GoPro, North Face, MEC, and countless other brands use these activities to advertise their products, reducing an experience like camping to a single aesthetic moment, the kind of moments that these brands try and embody. 

A good photograph is one thing. But the heartache comes when you finally get to Killarney for May 24 weekend and realize camping isn’t just 72 hours of sitting on a Pendleton blanket in the back of a retro VW camper van while you watch the sunset in your Blundstones and vintage flannel. 

Camping is hard work…and it can kind of suck. Sometimes there’re bugs, there’s never a shower, sometimes there’s rain and portaging is always the worst. And while you’re expecting it to resemble a post from National Geographic, you end up missing out on those little moments that, when you look back, ended up being the big ones.  

I remember spending a long weekend in Algonquin a couple of summers ago and the entire time expecting these precise moments where I would suddenly realize I loved the wilderness and camping and all that comes with it. 

But those moments didn’t come when we were paddling across a lake, or when we were all sitting around the campfire cooking dinner; times when I expected they would. It was the feeling of accomplishment that came with building our fires and cooking our meals every night; knowing we’d paddled and carried our canoes all those kilometres to get where we were going made me realize what an incredible experience that weekend had been. A feeling that no single photo could ever capture. 

A picturesque, perfectly-filtered picture can make you think you’re falling in love with something, when in reality, you’re just falling in love with the idea of it. It leaves you chasing a high that doesn't truly exist — and makes your camping trip seem subpar, even if you had the time of your life. 

Social media often equates an aesthetic with an experience, but in reality there’s no single moment, it’s the amalgamation of all those little moments that make you say “this is why I love doing this and this is what it’s all about.” Appreciating an experience is being able to look at the good times with the bad times and understand how much better the highs are with the lows. 

No one stops mid-way through their morning routine and says, “Wow, sitting in the rising sunlight, with my copy of Siddartha lying on the table, while I sip this cappuccino and my cat purrs on my lap sure makes me love mornings.” 

It’s a combination of a hundred little ineffable moments that can’t be summed up in a square image or 120 characters or less, nor should it be. 

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