02/07/2013 07:13 BST | Updated 31/08/2013 06:12 BST

Low Fidelity

It's finally happened. I've weakened. I always said I'd never do it, but, through sheer curiosity, I've had a look at Instagram...

My disapprobation of this photo app started months ago. It was a dark and stormy November afternoon and the sixth formers in my classroom were dreaming of better things.

'Miss,' they asked, 'have you ever thought of doing all the photos for the school magazine in like, Instagram or something, and putting like, really cool filters and stuff on them so that we could be like, the first school to have a really like, hipster magazine?' It's not so much that my response is unrepeatable as that my response was the kind of stunned silence which my students do not often see.

I don't see the point of photo apps which exist to make reality look prettier. Well: I mean I see the point; it's perhaps more the case that I don't see the value. Surely a photograph is a representation of reality with the kind of accuracy which a sketch or a painting can't achieve? It does what it says on the tin, so to speak: if you're looking at a beautiful sunset, you record it in a photograph, just as it is, for sharing or future admiration. Why put a filter on it, make it look older, prettier, blur it, turn it into a Polaroid for our times? Photos are accurate and instantaneous, these days, with phone cameras of ever greater resolution, and photo sharing seeming ever easier.

And yet. On the first Monday morning of the Summer break, sitting in a café with my book, I felt myself grow weak. It seemed quite de rigeur to tweet a photo of my large Americano and my book, as the first installment of this year's What I Did In My Summer Holidays essay in statuses and tweets. Look how glamorous I am, dahlings - I have a life, maybe even a lifestyle, now that the classroom door has closed for a month or two. Uploading the photo to Twitter, I found that I was scrolling through the filters, choosing a favourite... and before I knew it, I'd signed up for that accursed Instagram, and was exploring its veils of low fidelity.


From my vantage point at the window of the café, I could see the truth, freezeframed. Monday 1st July had brought indifferent weather to the northern town in Northern Ireland. It was about 15 celsius and showery. Northern Ireland male was conspicuous by his absence, but several generations of Northern Ireland female were out in force, and she was, to a person, dressed in a waterproof jacket, average-cut linen trousers and sensible flat shoes. There was evidence of round-necked pastel t-shirts, and redundant sunglasses hiding in uniformly-highlighted, sensibly-bobbed hair beneath the ever-present bunting of umbrellas. As ever, I seemed to have missed the dress code on my invitation to leave the house: jeans, black top, a mildly neon purple cardigan and untidy, long hair with not a highlight to be seen; a misfit camouflage, allowing me to observe in peace. At the table next to me, two women were talking loudly.

'Aye well,' said one, draining her cappuccino. 'You know - I'm not gettin' any younger. 35 this year. I'd need to get another wean out. If only for the maternity.'

As she stood, to drag herself unwillingly back to work, her friend said, 'Aye, sure maternity is great. My hubby wonders how I put the day in, in the house. But I put it in fine. It's workin' is the problem...'

This is life in high fidelity. Being invisible in a crowd just lets you see it. It's about being tired of going to work. It's about getting older inexorably; being middle-aged before you're ready to admit it. It's the grim reality of a cool and showery day as your holidays begin, and knowing that the forecast for tomorrow is even worse. It's the fact that, when you look out the café window at the population drifting almost sonambulantly past, you notice that their faces are all set in quiet desperation, framed by identikit hairstyles, the same uniform of so-called fashion choice, the same interests and the same compromise of a bland and featureless existence. 'I had not thought death had undone so many...'

No wonder that we all reach for filters to tone this down. No wonder that we airbrush our coffee or our books or our untidy desks: we're drawing a filter across our own perceptions of what we do to make our lives make sense. We are 'putting in' our ordinary time. We veil it in a filter of low-fi unreality to make our familiarities seem like wonders.

We seek out new, more interesting identities in the low fidelity airbrush of a filtered truth.