**To further entertain yourself while reading this post, take a shot every time I mention coffee
As a Millennial, I was thrown into the ever-expanding world of technology and social media, not knowing what I was getting myself into at first. It wasn’t until the summer before my junior year of high school that I finally got a “real” smartphone – the Droid Razr M – which allowed me to download apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Before that, I had a hand-me-down BlackBerry (a few days ago the company announced that they’re discontinued…even though I’m just shy of twenty, this makes me feel so old) which made me imagine myself as a sophisticated twenty-something city dweller on her way to a high-scale office assistant job typing a quick email along the lines of “Robert, have those documents ready for me stat.” But in reality I was just a sixteen-year-old well behind her peers in terms of smartphone ownership, asking her friends to meet her at Caribou Coffee. (Wow, look at me throwing out all these outdated terms today! The closing of Caribou Coffee in Ohio is just one of the handful of minuscule heartbreaks in my life)
Owning a smartphone and having several social media accounts has resulted in me becoming immersed in the culture that encourages (and even pressures) sharing. And admittedly I do sometimes resent myself for how deeply involved I was with social media in high school. When I first got my Droid Razr M, I went batshit crazy on Instagram. I’m talking four posts a day. I was so obsessed with my 8-megapixel camera and all the filters I had to choose from. I’ve considered photography a hobby since middle school, but Instagram changed everything, once “likes” became a part of the picture (no pun intended). The number of likes on a photo seemed to determine who really cared about you and your life, how creative/hipster/artsy you were, how pretty/attractive you were – the numbers under your photo created a toxic mindset.
But a couple of years ago I noticed a new trend, a shift in tone on Instagram. Overhead photos of lavish meals and brunches and skillfully created lattes, carefully laid out inanimate objects, and bright, sharp still-lifes started appearing. Feeds started to transform into something totally different – individualized collages that screamed look at how beautiful and put-together my life is! I gave into this trend when I was away at college last year – I was one of few students out of my graduating class to go to school out of state, let alone New York. I arrived at college broke and with two work-study jobs lined up. Most of my peers and classmates came from affluent if not financially comfortable families. Not that I pretended that I was rich or anything (that’s fucking ridiculous), but it was so easy for me to feel out of place when I walked into class out of breath, wearing an oversized cardigan to cover up my catering uniform, while other girls had their MacBook Air’s and large iced coffees on their desks, wearing full make-up and effortlessly stylish outfits. Usually I only got the opportunity to express myself with my clothes and wear my hair down two days a week. Every time I had to set up a continental breakfast in a conference room or refill iced tea for guests at sit-down dinners or replenish romaine lettuce at the dining hall salad bar earned me the sole privilege to take the bus to the Commons and go to my favorite stationary store or bookstore or coffee shop or browse Urban Outfitters on a $10 budget. If going downtown to get a hand-poured latte meant picking up a three-hour shift and emptying food into an overflowing compost bin, I did not even hesitate. I had, and still do, work hard for things that come so easily to most, despite what my Instagram page conveys. No, I can’t afford to buy lattes every day, or go out to brunch and sip mimosas or buy things full priced from Urban Outfitters or J. Crew or Sephora, or take spontaneous weekend trips to Boston or New York City or Chicago. That’s not the kind of lifestyle I have, and I’m not envious of those who do, nor am I bashing them in any way. The year I spent away from home kicked my ass and opened my eyes to the concept of a hard-earned dollar, and let me tell you, it feels so much better knowing I earned most of the things I have now on my own. I am thankful for the life I have and the work I put into it. You can have a beautiful life and work hard for it simultaneously.
With this in mind, I want to address the title of this post. I was on Tumblr the other night around 2 A.M. and I stumbled across this quote: “From tiny experiences we build cathedrals.” Usually when I find quotes or phrases I like, I just mindlessly click “Reblog” and continue scrolling. But this one stuck with me. A Turkish novelist named Orhan Pamuk penned this phrase, and I think it encapsulates my generation, the Millennials, perfectly. Breaking it down, we turn simple events into grandiose affairs. “It’s Tuesday and I got lunch with a friend” or “I saw this flower on my walk to class today” turns into a carefully edited photo and a few seconds later, it’s a beautiful moment. We make a big deal out of the small moments in life. We try to find beauty or joy in everything we see and experience in our day to day lives. And of course, when things aren’t pleasant in the world, we are quick to vocalize our opinions and turn into activists, much to the displeasure of the Baby Boomers.
Nonetheless, we are the generation of passion, and we channel it in every way we can. We build cathedrals from tiny experiences. We upload them to Instagram, hashtag them, Tweet them, and blog about them. While social media can encourage toxic and unhealthy behavior sometimes, you have to admit that it’s a wonderful thing to experience different parts of the world through millions of different pairs of eyes.