How I accidentally figured out what I want to do in life (and this thing called #NoFilterFeb)
TLDR: I’m launching a social media challenge to see how many people can go filter free on Instagram for a whole month.
I want to capture this under the hashtag #NoFilterFeb with the sole purpose being a reminder that what we see online isn’t always real; that the world is pretty good looking without all the editing.
If you’re up for it, post your version of the #NoFilterFeb Ø to Instagram and tag three friends into the challenge.
I’m not expecting this to be the next ice bucket challenge. But even if I can get a handful of people to stop and think about what the overuse of filters is really saying and impressing on a younger generation, I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something.
This topic is broad, deep and sometimes a bit dark. And for that reason I think it’s worth talking about.
That’s the quick pitch. Below is the deep dive.
On December 5th last year I accidentally thought it would be a good idea to write a blog post every day for a year. I say accidentally because it jumped into my head before having the chance to think it through. By simply thinking of it I had signed myself up and now I’m too stubborn to give up. I haven’t missed a day yet.
Two weeks ago a similar thing happened. I accidentally had another idea.
I recently wrote a post about Instagram and how social apps that allow the manipulation of images are perpetuating a big issue in society around the ability to distinguish what’s real and what’s not.
In some respects it’s easy to say ‘yes, well we know social media isn’t always real’, but that point of view is easy to take for granted. It’s often the perspective for those of us who have a memory of what being online was like before social saturation. We can forget that a few years on, rather than social media becoming an option, it became the dashboard to the internet.
Social meant moments that were shared no longer became your ‘past’. Instead they became part of your ‘profile’. With this, a wave of consideration and curating began.
At the same time, the accessibility to anyone we wanted to follow introduced a whole new spectrum of influence.
When I first signed up to Twitter one of the suggested accounts to follow was Paris Hilton. I remember thinking ‘is this the real Paris Hilton? These words aren’t actually coming from her, are they?’
The sudden access to high profile people was a huge shift; it’s easy to forget that we didn’t always have it. However, now this exposure is the norm.
When you combine the idea of curation with access to lifestyles that are far from attainable, you begin to see the formula emerge of how the benchmarks for what we post online were conceived.
This wasn’t a topic I’d really put much thought into before. I knew it existed but like a lot of other things it takes something to kick you from the ‘I’m aware of it’ camp to the ‘I think I should try and do something about this’ camp.
And for me, this happened in the Sahara Desert.
Every time I went to post a photo to Instagram I immediately began flicking through the filters that would make the colours of the desert really pop. I couldn’t ask for a more Nat Geo backdrop if I tried, yet my instinctive reaction was to improve it.
Without making it sound too much like an epiphany that happened in a single moment, that’s kind of what it was.
When I was back in London, I couldn’t shake this thought. I wanted to figure out why it was so under my skin.
What I landed on was a bit gutting. I realised that I too had bought into this culture of making my life look perfect online. It got to me because it felt so counter-intuitive to what my outlook on life really is. I was buying into hyper-reality.
I think filters on Instagram are a huge contribution to the smudged lines of what’s real and what’s not.
I get that they can make things look cool. But if everything that we see online has gone through this upgrading process it sets an impossible standard for what it takes to be impressed in real life. And it forces the question ‘why does my life not look as good as that?’
So, my accidental idea was a challenge to see if people could give up filters for a whole month.
A split second later it had become #NoFilterFeb, and just like the writing challenge I knew I’d be stuck on it. Alliterations are the crack of marketing after all.
This idea came to me on the 14th of January. Things have happened pretty fast since then.
I’ll be honest, for the first couple of days I was kind of hoping something would stop me. Looking back now I probably felt that way because I was a bit scared of failing. I still am. It’s part of the anxiety that ties up with knowing you’ve got a good idea and the reality of seeing it through when it calls on so many things you don’t know anything about. If someone else had come up with this idea then I could say ‘oh well at least I tried!’ But it was an open door.
I knew there was something in this idea that could live beyond an idea based in February too, so without really knowing what I was doing I kept working through a to do list.
I got a basic website up, claimed the social handles and started figuring out who I needed to talk to.
Then something utterly terrifying happened.
A branding agency called Moving Brands wanted to take the idea on and help bring it to life. As in, real professionals spending billable time on this concept I’d dreamt up. I had to make this work. Or “have to” to be more accurate.
While I’m focused on February right now my vision is to keep exploring this topic with a much wider view. It’s not about filters, it’s about what they represent. I’m not sure what form that’s going to take yet, but two weeks ago I wouldn’t have expected to be here, so I’m not as worried about needing to know the final result before I start something anymore.
It’s a big project but I don’t think I’ll drop it — I’m too stubborn. But baby steps first. I have one week til February and a lot of momentum to build.
The identity that Moving Brands came up with is centered around the universal symbol for nothing or nil: Ø. This clicked with me. There’s power in symbolism.
This coming week my aim is to get as many people buying into this idea of going filter free as possible. It’s a simple call to action. Post your Ø hand sign on Instagram as your opt in to #NoFilterFeb and tag three friends to do it with you. Then for the month of February, ditch the filters and go for real.
If we can dedicate one month to a filter free view of the world, we just might remember that it doesn’t always need to be touched up and perhaps, we can start to reestablish a bit more balance in our news feeds.
#NoFilterFeb is a small start. I’m aware it’s a tiny piece of a huge puzzle, but it’s a wheel I am determined to get rolling.
Digital media isn’t going away. More kids are going to grow up with it as a core influence and the impact it has on development, identity and mental well being is something we can’t ignore.
Visit www.nofilterfeb.com for more info and if you’re game post your Ø to Instagram and tag three friends into the challenge.
I truly believe this is important and something we need to talk about.
If giving up filters for a month can help get that conversation going, then it seems like a worthwhile thing to have accidentally thought of.