The cosy delights of the Internet
Why I unfollowed influencers and Kardashians — and opted for using Instagram in a different way, writes Claire Maxwell.
Claire Maxwell is a writer, with bylines including Harper’s Bazaar, Telegraph and ELLE and she writes a monthly Substack newsletter Joy Is Not Made To Be A Crumb. She is also a book publicist and has worked with authors such as Matt Haig, Bear Grylls, Lynne Tillman and Nancy Campbell. Here, she writes a piece for The Hyphen on how social media is not all bad, and can in fact add a big dollop of delight to everyday life.
A coffee mug atop a desk—ring-stained by mugs past. To the left of the image a book is open, its spine cracked and its pages face down in prayer. We can almost feel the breeze coming through the window, lifting the steam from the hot liquid as a beam of sunlight hits it just right. It is gas, it is liquid, it is light.
Next: 15 seconds of waves. The sky grey. This time, we can hear the wind and the water as it surges to its pinnacle, cracks, and smashes itself to pieces. Only to surge once again.
Next: two glasses of red wine, a half empty bottle, tapered cream-coloured candles and greedy hands reaching towards bowls of pasta, salad, and bread.
We swipe. We scroll.
When an elderly relative suggests that all young people do these days is glue their hands and their eyes to smartphones and post ill-considered opinions to Twitter, I smile—I know that’s not what it is at all. Or at least, it needn’t be. There is still a pervasive assumption that if you enjoy social media then you are wasting your time. That to acknowledge the very real negative aspects of the internet means to eschew it entirely. That if you find yourself reaching for your phone during the ad breaks of Love Island you need to quit cold turkey.
This view ignores the fact that we, like most things, contain multitudes—that we can be at once sickened by the effects of filters and apps like Facetune on teenagers’ mental health, while also getting a lot from the community and inspiration social media can provide.
I spend time with friends and family in real life, I work hard at a job I enjoy, I read books and watch true crime documentaries on Netflix. But I also—regularly—post and scroll through pictures of bookshelves doused in sunlight, roaring fires and homemade cakes and piles of blankets and cushions. Stacks of beaten up books, Scottish hills and beaches in the dead of winter; writers’ desks so cluttered they could only belong to a genius, writers’ desks so neat they could inspire a generation. And they make me feel something good, something nebulous—a mixture of joy and calm contentedness.
I probably am addicted, in the same way that I am addicted to reading or that first cup of coffee in the morning. I crave how it makes me feel. I’ve been considering the particular state of mind that certain books, films and music put me in. And that some Instagram accounts do too. It’s a high, of sorts. But it’s also deep relaxation. At once galvanising and sedative. It moves me. In that state of mind, I could weep at how wonderful it feels to stand on the beach with the rain on my face. I could write an essay. I could sing.
I’ve only really begun to notice and consider it in the last few years, having finally unfollowed the YouTubers, influencers and Kardashians whose content made me want to buy £100 foundation so my skin would look as light reflecting as theirs. Instead, I started following people who did Instagram in a different way. Who took photos of their actual life—a newspaper article they were reading and wanted to share, artwork from an exhibition they found particularly moving, a croissant so perfectly flaky it deserved to be immortalised. They were sharing an image or a short video as an ode to that moment. And in doing so they were conveying the preciousness of those very normal, very special moments—saying: these are what make up a life.
When I think about the kind of books that put me in that state of mind, they are always by writers that centre their prose in realism. Tessa Hadley describing her character’s curtains. Sally Rooney’s on holiday grilling fish and drinking cold white wine you can all but taste. Deborah Levy in her sparse Paris apartment.
Realism in art, literature and online, centres me in my life. It makes me thankful for the small—huge!—pleasures I experience every day and when I take and post a picture of the book I’m reading or my cat so sweet and snuggly under a blanket, it’s because those moments are everything to me. They are a digital version of J.B. Priestley’s book Delight, a collection of essays in which he details his personal small pleasures: a G&T enjoyed alone; frying sausages outdoors.
Before I sat down at my laptop to write this, I made a cup of tea in my favourite mug — strong with a good glug of whole milk. I filled my hot water bottle from the kettle and settled down at my desk, the afternoon sun drenching my pink office walls in a warm glow.
And though my hands felt dry and my hair needed a wash, I was pre-menstrual and grumpy about life admin that needed doing, I also felt pure delight. Recognition not of what I lack but what I have. I snapped a photo of my mug on my desk, uploaded it to Instagram, and then began to write.
A note from Emma:
Following accounts (like Claire’s) gave me a warm and visceral feeling of cosiness and relaxation while recovering from burnout. During that time, I didn’t want to see pictures of people’s achievements, but instead photos of comfort, cosiness, slow-life and wintering from underneath a blanket. Here are some of my favourite accounts: