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The problem with Instagram filters

Feb. 27, 2020
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Which Disney character are you? Which Kung Fu Tea drink are you? ¿Qué tipo de arepa eres? Which nationality do you resemble most? Which White Claw flavor are you? What’s your daily horoscope? Where will you go to college?

An Instagram filter shrouds our heads like a halo, and randomized images flicker on the screen until—voila!—our destined Disney character, arepa, or White Claw flavor materializes on the screen. If your brother gets Cinderella as his Disney princess, you’ll share the video, laughing at the complete discrepancy. On the other hand, if you get your favorite Disney princess, you’ll probably share it because it’s just so accurate!

Does this story sound familiar? It should. Buzzfeed quizzes do something similar, after all. If you check out their website, you can choose from a variety of quizzes like “How Many Will Smith Movies Have You Seen?” and “Who Should You Ask to Be Your Valentine?” and “How Old Are You Based on What’s in Your Spice Cabinet?”

The real question is why?

Why do we care so much about Buzzfeed quizzes and Instagram filters? Why do we care if a quiz tells us whether we’re Anna, Elsa, or Olaf? Why do we want a randomized generator to determine our favorite season or favorite town in Italy? What do we make of this incessant search for categorization, for belonging, for validation? 

It’s important to recognize that there are different kinds of filters and quizzes. I’ve boiled them down to a couple different categories (the irony): trivia, affiliation, and affirmation tests. Trivia quizzes test us on how many homophones or Will Smith movies we know. We take these because we want to see how much we actually know about trendy subjects. Overachievers will take them repeatedly until they (we) reach a perfect score. 

Affiliation tests—much like filters—tell us where we belong and who we are. As silly as it sounds, a lot of people see real value in these. This false sense of “accuracy” gives these quizzes their power. We’re obsessed with knowing more about ourselves—with unlocking our deepest secrets, feelings, and inclinations. But I’m not sure that a Buzzfeed quiz or an Instagram filter can replace the real path to self-discovery: watching Eat, Pray, Love of course.

More often than not, we know the answers to these quizzes before we take them. We already know who we want to ask to be our Valentine and how old we are. But still, we take them. It’s like asking someone whether they think the prom dress you bought looks good on you when you already know it does—we seek validation. 

Let’s backtrack, though. We all know of the famous Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, which assigns each Hogwarts student their House. This House dictated each student’s personality, core values, and wardrobe. Honestly, I don’t think many students even needed the Hat—deep down, they could’ve sorted themselves out just fine, but believing in the Hat’s otherworldly wisdom gave it its power. 

Rushing a sorority plays a similar tune. Going into rush this semester, I knew deep down that I didn’t fit into any of the sororities at my school, and that was okay. But I still felt the need to rush and force myself to be classified under one of the four sororities’ aesthetics and vibes. Compartmentalization of this kind is inherently anti-feminist and essentialist in theory. Our identities, personalities, stories, and experiences are intersectional and complex, influenced by a plethora of factors like race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, political inclination, and to some, zodiac sign. But no one characteristic defines us. We are too complex for labels—much less randomized, computer-generated, arbitrary ones. 

The same goes for checking your daily horoscope on Co—Star. You know you’re having pressure in work, thinking and creativity, and self. So why seek Co—Star’s opinion? Honestly, it’s pretty fun. It’s cool to think that a bunch of code can possibly know anything about us, almost like a fortune cookie. It just becomes problematic when we begin to rely on trivia and affiliation and affirmation tests to know more about ourselves. They replace self-reflection with instant insight. 

Instead of trying to constantly classify ourselves, maybe we should take a step back and check on ourselves. Keep ourselves accountable. Think about our latest thoughts, actions, energies. Take time to learn about ourselves—what makes us happy, what doesn’t, who we gravitate toward and why, what we want to make of our time on Earth. Process instead of waiting for machines, filters, and quizzes to do so for us. This semester, I’m choosing to self-reflect and get to know myself better. Will you?