Editor’s Note: Each week in “Apparently This Matters,” CNN’s Jarrett Bellini applies his warped sensibilities to trending topics in social media and random items of interest on the Web.
Zach Belden started an Instagram account for his great-grandmother, battling lung cancer
Grandma Betty has become an Internet sensation and has hundreds of thousands of followers
Belden: "Teaching her how to take a selfie is harder than it probably seems"
I once uploaded an Instagram of me at Old Navy trying to get all kissy-face with a mannequin. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but she was rather unresponsive.
Probably just not into gingers.
It was a silly moment, for sure, but it also accurately illustrated my overall artistic contribution to the world of social photo sharing. Which is to say: Little to none.
“Hey, what filter looks best for an Allman Brothers ticket stub?”
Real Ansel Adams kind of stuff.
Finally, about two months ago, I took a short break from Instagram. My farewell offering was a three-second video where I simply exclaimed, “¡Ay, que lastima!”
Translation: “Oh, what a shame.”
But it wasn’t.
Nobody cared. Nor should they have.
I was using Instagram for all the wrong reasons. And I still am.
However, recently, a new account started catching everyone’s attention for all the right reasons. Because, unlike my periodic visual odes to my dog’s butt, everything about grandmabetty33 is wonderful.
And people care.
It all started about three months ago when 18-year-old Zach Belden, a high school senior in Jeffersonville, Indiana, decided to start documenting the final days, months, and (hopefully) years of his great-grandmother, Betty Jo Simpson.
Grandma Betty has lung cancer. She was diagnosed in December. She’s 80.
“Many of my friends knew Grandma,” Belden told me. “And it was a neat way to connect her to them.”
Amazingly, after about a week, Grandma Betty had nearly 100 followers. And because she’s pretty much the cutest thing walking the planet – sorry, sloths – her account quickly caught on even more with people who had never even met her.
One of Grandma Betty’s biggest fans is the musician Pharrell.
Belden says they were amazed when she went over 1,000 followers, but when she reached 4,400, somehow that seemed to be the magic number.
“I’ll never forget that number,” Belden says. “That’s when it kicked off.”
Soon, they were on TV. Soon, Belden’s phone started ringing off the hook. Soon, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.
And soon, Grandma Betty’s account began growing by the thousands.
At press time she had more than 350,000 followers.
Of course, with great fame comes great responsibility. Grandma Betty had to become more tech savvy. There are rules to Internet stardom, and the first one is that you take your own selfies.
Which wasn’t easy.
Belden admits, “Teaching her how to take a selfie is harder than it probably seems.”
But Grandma Betty’s getting it, and, more importantly, she gets Instagram.
Belden says, “She knows that I post her pictures and videos on the Internet, people like them, and every time we get the chance, we sit down for a couple hours and just read the heartwarming comments she receives everyday.”
But never mind the comments. Grandma Betty had to get a P.O. Box.
On Saturday, Belden opened one for his great-grandma, and four days later she got her first letter from a fan in Minnesota.
Because, you know, that’s what Minnesotans do. Wonderfully nice things.
I hate them all.
Then, on Thursday, she got 20 additional letters and a package with a handmade lap quilt.
People. Sometimes they’re just really good.
But all this is about more than just some old lady making duck faces and peace signs for the amusement of strangers on the Internet. This is about two people – generations apart – finding a creative, 21st-century extension to a close bond that was built over many years.
Belden explains, “Before grade school, I didn’t have a babysitter. I had my grandma. We’re so undeniably close, and I would hate to lose her. She thinks the same of me and my family – she tells us every day.”
But sometimes she just sticks out her tongue.
Like she did when she was visiting the “cancer doctor” and was eating blue candy. You could tell. It was definitely blue.
And now that image has become the official Grandma Betty logo thanks to a company called 1facewatch who designed it for her based on the photo.
So, Grandma Betty has a logo, and fans just keep pouring in.
Belden admits, “Grandma loves Instagram arguably even more than I do. It gives her something to look forward to. You never know what you’re gonna get with her.”
Which is far more than I can say for myself.
I’m recently back on Instagram, and it’s pretty much just more photos of my dog’s butt.
¡Ay, que lastima!
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