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Trapped in an Explore Tab of My Own Creation

Trapped in an Explore Tab of My Own Creation

by L. R. Encinas

. 4 min read

“Lexi cheer” I typed carelessly into the Instagram search bar. A quandary so banal — so revealing. I had to make sure Lexi was back at Navarro. Sigh of relief.

After sevenish hours of watching Cheer on Netflix, the next obvious step was scrolling through each cheerleader’s Instagram page; watching overfiltered, amateur iPhone shots evolve into professionally styled Instagram faces within a few swipes — documenting the rise to Instafame in real time.

And now, a few months after a weekend spent ignoring my kids and binging Cheer, I can’t escape Jerry, Monica, and the gang. A couple targeted searches have transformed my Instagram Explore tab forevermore and now it’s littered with Navarro appearances on Ellen and Gabi Freakin’ Butler glistening in the Florida sunset. I am the algorithm and the algorithm is me.

Every refresh brings more cheerleading content. There’s manbunned behemoths throwing literal children into the air and tan, athletic young women flipping and twisting  — stunting and tumbling and performing “all out.” (I have a reason to use my new cheerleading vocabulary.)

But it’s not just cheerleading on my Explore Tab. It’s all my other interests I wouldn’t verbally acknowledge as interests. It’s the glowy influencers I don’t want anyone to know I check up on. It’s home fixer-upper accounts. It’s ex-Bachelor contestants peddling sponcon. It’s Bravolebrity fan accounts. These days, it’s a lot of TikTok dances.

And I keep watching more of the same TikTok dances by more of the same girls who look more of the same because I keep clicking on them. More little squares with tiny cheerleaders bouncing around like that old screensaver — I’m just waiting for one of them to flip into the corner. When the uncertainty and weight of my own little life is too much, I find myself mindlessly scrolling and mindlessly clicking.

It’s like when you’re driving and thinking of something else, and then all of a sudden after a few minutes, you realize you’ve been operating a three-ton killing machine and you don’t even know how you got from A to B. I’m just swiping and tapping and watching and reading, but not internalizing, and then all of a sudden, I’ve clicked through a stranger’s entire home renovation. It’s familiar and dissociative at the same time.

And so there appears more home renovations. And more cheer routines. And more minutes spent at night, sitting on the corner of my bed, scrolling — so close to laying down and really resting, but the Explore Tab is the siren’s call.

My curated Explore Tab reveals all the most shallow parts of me; and maybe that’s the most real version — the sum of the things I search for when no one is looking. That sounds more pernicious than it should. My searches consist mostly of checking in on former Bachelor contestants. (Tayshia is doing great.)

I want my Explore Tab to reflect the best version of me, and I also want to care about why the cast of Vanderpump Rules is mad at each other. And what is early-2000s singer Craig David up to these days. (Answer: he is still hot.) These are the things I cared about a month ago Before Everything Changed. So stupid. But also, it was worth a search at the time. And is it worth a search now?

I — equal parts — want to see all my crazy TV aunts from The Real Housewives acting consistently nuts on my Explore Tab, and I also want them to grow up and show me how to homeschool my kids. I need escapism from my manic-homebound life, but I also need a manual for How to Keep It Together During a Global Pandemic.

I need my media consumption to touch down somewhere between mindless and mindful. Some place between the joyful weirdness of this video, the sanctity of “Dolly Parton’s America”, the mind-numbing power of Tiger King, and the anxiety of Taza’s cross-country RV trip.

We create our reality: one Instagram stalk, one Netflix binge, one mindless scroll at a time. The feedback loop wasn’t an invention of Mark Zuckerberg, but a function of life lived. And I need life to be a bit more digestible right now. I need it to be broken down into 15 second TikTok videos and Boomerangs and a carousel of photos to swipe through when I start calculating  the long-term prospect of a social-distanced life. I need to refresh.

There’s risk in going too far down the Explore Tab rabbit hole — of forgetting that when you get outside and look up, everything can feel . . . normal for a moment. But while I’m sorting out so much in my brain, in my feelings, and in the realities of living life in the time of coronavirus, there’s a distraction from it all, just a tap away.

Lately, I’ve been engaging less with Navarro content, but I’m back on my Bon Appétit bullshit, so some entry-level sourdough recipes may be on my Explore Tab horizon. And there’s a new Bachelor spinoff starting this month with a whole new crop of wannabe singers to Instastalk. Currently, I’m in deep with The Quarantine Crew’s page — Tyler and Hannah B’s is a rich text for overanalysis.

I’ve been searching for some at-home fitness accounts, so you know I’ll have whole pages of crop tops to swipe past. And I momentarily forgot about infection rates when I was up late embarrassingly trying to learn a TikTok dance I saw. My Explore Tab won’t buy me more toilet paper or actually make the damn sourdough bread after I spent a week feeding the starter. But it wasn’t meant to.

One of the strangest things about everything right now is that amongst so much uncertainty, there’s very little variability in how our days at home operate. There’s sweatpants and shows and remote work and trying to whip up some Alison Roman recipes. That could be life for the next week, or month, or next several months, until I don’t know how long. My Explore Tab, on the other hand, changes completely in a refresh.

I know what tomorrow brings in my real life, but my Explore Tab is only meant to last until I’m bored of it. More cheerleading content? Sure. More baking content? Sure. More pretty people in pretty houses? Sure. I’ll refresh and find out what the next moment brings.

(Design: Josh Fowlke) (Editor: Rachel Swan)