My Best Self Now Is My Worst Self Later

When I scroll backward through my Instagram, I kind of hate myself. Have you looked at anyone’s old Instagram photos? Of course you have, this is online stalking 101. Mine are especially bad. I look at them and I look at the people who actually, at one time, clicked a like button, to endorse this mediocrity, and I question their taste, but not nearly so much as I question my own.

When I moved into my current apartment two years ago I was short on art, so I printed out some of those old Instagrams and stuck them on my wall, in a grid, across from my bed. Then I started to learn about photography. I learned some things about structuring a shot and when the light is just bad (sooner than you think after sunset in New York; in most restaurants and bars, especially at night; but it’s weirdly good next to plane windows) and also how to edit photos with other apps. Every day I woke up looking at those old photos on my wall, and every day I was more embarrassed of my own judgment.

I look at the old photos in my feed periodically, disappointed in myself but also the two or ten or twenty other people who I duped into endorsing each photo with a fat Instagram heart. This one is too blue, this other one is too grainy, this crop is terrible, and this one! This is literally just a picture of my fingers. It is a bad picture of my fingers. Why did I see fit to share this with other people as if it were worth looking at? A cat, a flower, a sunset, a selfie, all with terrible composition and heinous filters. Some photos I’ve deleted, even for the minor offense of having a somewhat embarrassing caption.

I had a blog I started when I was a teenager that contained mostly rants about school or my job. Some people told me it was funny. That was encouraging. One of my friends said it was “overreaching,” and I thought that was dick thing to say. Reading it back a couple years ago, I found well after the fact she was right. I paid money to access the service’s mass-editing features so I could set the whole thing to private. Now I have a Tumblr, and a Twitter, but even paging too far back there is too much to bear. I really should do something about them.

According to every think piece about the Internet and social networks, my online self is my curated best self. This was me, really trying. The ability to disappear that try-hard completely is so tempting, but I can’t get rid of everything; it’s too suspicious. I’m always going to be comparatively young and dumb on the Internet, somewhere.

It’s easy to mortify myself with all these accessible online artifacts of who I was and things I thought were hilarious or clever. Now I know better than to be that person and say or do that stuff. The stuff I’m doing or saying now: it’s fine. I’ve benefited so richly from realizing how naive I was in the past, and all of the Content I’m making reflects it. Or I think I know better, until I age another year or two or five or ten and realize that everything I’m doing now, including this, is self-indulgent and obvious.

Good thing I can be full enough of myself right now to actually think this is a good idea. This version of me I do like will exist for a little while, before it withers and crumples with time into something I don’t even want to acknowledge. Unlike my memories of myself, or the memories of people who know me, stored in our unreliable brains, my dumb tweets will not get rosier with time. That is, unless I learn to forgive my youthful stupidity, even when it’s unarguable and objective, under the fluorescent lights of the Internet.

Never Better, a collection of essays from writers we love, is The Awl’s goodbye to 2014.