By Yeo Kee Hwan (18S03Q)
The word “spam” may bring to mind the popular sandwich meat, but this is going to be about something less tasty, though perhaps just as salty and juicy. This is about the ubiquitous private Instagram accounts owned by denizens of our school, more affectionately known as spams (for the unceasing flow of content).
It’s nothing new, of course. They have been used even in secondary school, but it is undeniable that they’ve become even more popular in JC. These accounts act as a mix between diaries and private messages to our close friends, as we recount the daily happenings of our lives, perhaps vent a little about our disappointments or share about the little things that have made us happy in the dreary humdrum of life. From the other side of the screen, scrolling through these updates can be entertaining as we laugh at the quips of friends or commiserate with them. On the surface, it seems like a great way to destress, stay connected with friends whom we have drifted from in our business, and generally have a good time.
There are various types of spams, so to speak, and here’s a quick rundown on some of the more commonly seen ones. (Disclaimer: this isn’t meant to put down anything. Or anyone.)
As it appears, a spam is a very versatile medium, and clearly something is going for it considering how prevalent these accounts are. But as with anything in life, it can’t all be sunshine and rainbows. In fact, the common complaints levied against spams seem to be about how ‘unhealthy’ or ‘toxic’ they can be when certain content is posted, or that they can often affect friendships in real life. Much of this gives us food for thought for what a spam is and how it should be curated – if there even is a rule of thumb which should be abided by.
For one, how much do you feel the need to censor yourself? It boils down to how you view your account and your followers. Or, from the other side of the screen, how you view the person you follow. If one were to treat a spam as some sort of sacred, personal space, then arguably you should be able to post whatever you want, whenever you want, completely guilt-free.
But we know that isn’t always true. People are still afraid to look bad, figuratively and literally, some more than others.
To begin with, even a 20-followers-strong spam is anything but private. In many ways, it is more of a form of communication: you expect some form of response, be it in the form of likes, comments, or even direct messages, asking after you if you sound particularly depressed. Understandably, many of the social barriers that govern our public selves remain even on a spam, and it seems that people still believe they owe their followers at least some kind of restraint or filter.
At the same time, this begs the question for those on the opposite side of the screen: why do you follow someone’s spam? Because it’s a demonstration of your friendship? Because it’s entertaining to scroll through your friend’s life? Because you want in on however much of a mess your friend is? It could be any combination of the above. But it might be worth considering that a spam being ‘toxic’ to you isn’t always just about the content that is posted. Maybe you just aren’t as invested in someone else’s life, or you just have too much on your plate at the moment to be dealing with a friend’s troubles too. In any case, taking a step back to reevaluate following such an account might do you both good, if you’re starting to find it tiresome to see those posts on your dash again and again.
Types of interactions on spams
The content of the posts isn’t the only thing to a spam, of course. In fact, the very process of ‘letting’ people ‘into’ your spam and conversely, requesting to follow someone’s spam is very much an artificially simplified model of how we negotiate our interpersonal relationships in real life.
It starts even with the handle. If you wanted to be deep about it, you could argue that choosing a spam handle is like choosing something for your private self to be known by. Unlike in real life, you aren’t constrained by the practical need to have a socially acceptable name. Maybe it’s something you love (or someone, especially if you have an idol…), or maybe it’s a witty play on your real name.
But frankly speaking, sometimes it’s just something completely inane, more often than not because you’ve been found by a friend or family member who cannot be privy to the depths of your darkest secrets. In itself, this is also a unique advantage that a spam offers you; escaping awkward conversations and avoiding people isn’t quite as easy in real life.
Finding someone’s spam is really just the first step. As with friendships in real life, it takes some kind of negotiation to determine how close you are to someone. Thankfully, this is usually an organic process, where there is an unspoken agreement between you and a fellow human being about how close you are, and what your boundaries are. More importantly, there is usually no need to make this explicit; your entire friendship could be comfortably subsisted on casual discussions of whether canned Ovaltine actually tastes good, and on good days you could have the odd conversation or two about something Deep and Soul-searching. There isn’t a need for a set label on your relationship, and how much you choose to tell each other can be up to your fancy on any given day.
But when you’re trying to decide on whether you want to request someone’s spam and risk rejection, there suddenly seems to be a need to artificially categorise your friendships into Close and Not-close, ignoring all the subtleties in between. Similarly, as the owner of a spam, sometimes the notification of a request from someone you have never instinctively thought of as a close friend can be incredibly stressful.
It’s not easy to make a clear decision on whether a new friend should be privy to some things you dare not even articulate in broad daylight. At the same time, ignoring the request or worse, outright rejecting it, feels somewhat like an unfair dismissal of whatever you have managed to build in your budding friendships. Unnaturally pigeonholing friendships in this manner and worse, allowing this to affect your interactions in real life, is potentially unhealthy.
And lastly, spams wouldn’t be spams without our much loved activity (second only to hiding from people): blocking! Personal as spams are, it is natural that we are wary of who we ‘let into’ our spams, perhaps even with the same caution that we use in choosing close friends. But what’s not the same is that in real life, past the age of 5, people generally stop saying things like ‘I don’t friend you!!’, at least not to the hapless victim’s face. Drifting apart from your friends, especially under all sorts of pressures in JC, happens because life does. It’s not like you wake up one morning and decide to take a pair of scissors to cut someone out of your life.
The thing is, that’s exactly how it appears when you block someone off your spam. There are no explanations to be offered, and no preamble, so one day you could simply decide to check-in on a friend, only to receive an unpleasant surprise: you have been blocked.
Regardless of the inevitable truth that not everyone stays best-of-friends from cradle to grave, being bluntly confronted with such a truth is undoubtedly harsher than the organic process of simply seeing a friend less or telling them less personal things as time goes by. In some ways, it unnecessarily hurts feelings, and creates divisions too as the fine line between a close friend and one less so suddenly becomes as insurmountable as the Great Wall of China.
In the same vein, it’s not uncommon for people to block each other when they feel like they’ve just had the fight of their lives. When you’re so sick of someone in real life, or you’ve been expending so much energy just being angry at them, it’s only natural to kick them out of your private space even online, be it out of the desire to preserve your own sanity or just out of spite.
The unfortunate side-effect is that if you ever intend to reconcile sometimes in this digital age, being found out might possibly just escalate matters further. And even after you’ve swallowed your anger, and most likely your pride, to apologise to them in person, it’s a bit trickier trying to negotiate the same turnaround online. Think about it. To let them back into your spam, you would first have to receive a fresh request from them first. And to get them to request you, you would have to unfollow them, follow them back, pray that they request you in turn, in the process exposing your original fit of pique which led to you blocking them.
A reflection of our current social environment? What changed?
In this author’s (rather insignificant) opinion, the phenomenon of increased prevalence of spam accounts is very much a product and a reflection of the environment we are now in. The confluence of growing up, an increasingly complex social hierarchy, and the sheer size of the school cohort complicates friendships more than ever. Inevitably, old ones are tested by time and distance, while new ones formed at this point in our lives are full of nuances that were never quite as prominent in the past. All these considerations, on top of the burgeoning self-awareness for our behaviour and appearances, only serve to drive people to seek that safe haven of a spam.
As to whether it’s a safe haven for you and your followers, it depends on the relationships that you share with your followers and yourself. In many cases, spams can bring out the worst in you, making the account ‘toxic’ to everyone involved. At the same time, it can also be a comfort, if it offers you the chance to reconnect with old friends while giving you the chance to talk about things which trouble or cheer you up, whichever route you’re heading on.
Ultimately, one should bear in mind that a spam is all well and good if it offers you some comfort, be it as an owner or as a follower. If these accounts make you feel terrible, or if they reek of toxicity, you should reconsider why you even follow the account and perhaps let go of those that are doing you dirty. Alternatively, if being toxic is your thing, you do you. Life is too short for regrets.