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Instagram is Ruining Everything. Yeah, I said it.

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Is Instagram really ruining society?

In a way, yes. Content creators and Influencers need to take a time-out for some soul-searching.

Before you run after me with torches and pitchforks and call me a hypocrite, let me explain.

Instagram is a wonderful tool.  Many great photographers without the means to market themselves have been discovered through Instagram.  It’s morphed quite a bit from its initial concept of using your phone to post a picture of what’s happening now, to online galleries of sometimes very old images curated by great photographers.

But you don’t need Instagram to be a successful photographer, and I explore that in this article.

Instagram is an excellent way to keep up with your friends without wading through all the BS you have to go through on Facebook (which now owns Instagram, if you didn’t know).  But still…

Yes, Instagram is ruining everything.

And these are things that I struggle with every day.  Social media is so valuable for professional growth, but at times it’s just such an abhorrent process to be involved with.

Study after study has shown that social media is a catalyst for depression because it leads us down the road of measuring our net worth as a person based on our “social engagement.”

Not getting the likes you thought you would?  You must be worthless.  We’ll explore some other, less apparent reasons below.

entertained

Missing Out

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Just as I started putting down my thoughts for this post, another opinion piece was published in The Guardian that expressed some of the same sentiments.  She focuses on the FOMO, or “fear of missing out” mentality of today.

Did you know that millennials mostly chose their travel destinations based on the “Instagramability” of a place?  Not for the people, or the history of the place, or the food, but how it will look on their phone and how many likes it will get.  No joke.  That’s a thing.

You could be in a sacred place awaiting a transcendent experience but not even remember you were there.  Because you were hashtagging instead.

Take your picture and put the camera away.  Then take it all in with your heart & soul.  The memory of being there will always be much stronger than the memory of taking a picture of it.

The Creative Process

“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.” – Yousuf Karsh

When we’re vying for attention and followers and likes, we feel forced to create so that we can have something to post.  Forced work never…works.

Because digital photography is so much more immediate than film photography, we feel like we have to share everything.

And it’s true that the more you post, the more people will notice you, thus the more likes & follows you’ll get.  But that’s the wrong reason to be posting.  We end up in some stupid race to out-post everyone else.

It’s cheapening the whole idea behind photography, that is making photos versus taking them, to borrow a thought from Ansel Adams.

I take my camera with me everywhere I go.  My old thought was, shit, I haven’t posted anything on Instagram for a few days, my followers may think I’m dead, find something.  

But because I do use my account for professional reasons, I need to make sure that I’m consistent with what I post and that only my best work is on there.  I can’t force something to materialize.  If it does, I’ll have my camera.  If it doesn’t…it can wait. 

Musicians don’t force new albums every year.  The good ones wait until they have something worth sharing.

You also end up comparing yourself to other photographers.  Now there’s nothing wrong with studying other photographers; in fact, you should do that to refine your own style and find inspiration. 

But saying, “This guy has 75,000 followers, I guess I need to copy photos like his to be successful,” isn’t being true to yourself.  And it doesn’t make you an artist; it makes you a copy machine.

When you look at other successful photographers on Instagram, you should be asking, “How did he get the light like that? What elements help this picture tell a story? How do the colors work together?  How does she use depth of field here?”  Not, “How did he get so many followers?”

Social Networking

“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” – Ansel Adams

“Social media” is just turning into “media.”  People won’t even engage in conversation about it, and yes I do tactfully bring it up when I see it.

What I’m talking about is the Instagrammer who most likely uses bots to “like” and “follow” accounts they think will like them.  They get your attention, you follow them back as a courtesy, and then they unfollow you.

This trend has exploded in use recently. And those seemingly random comments you get, made up of strange emojis and/or one simple generic word like, “Awesome!” from people with 30K followers? Yeah, those are automated comments too. Those people never saw your photo.

So I genuinely asked some of these people if they think this is a wise way to build online relationships.  I really do want to know why they believe this is a good strategy – is it really working for them?

Most ignore me, one blamed it on their social media manager, one blocked me, and another just straight up said, “Numbers will make me successful.”  Personally, I think it’s distasteful.  Maybe you can help me understand if this is something you do?

There is truth to numbers reflecting your success.  But it’s not just numbers.  It’s your interactions with people and their interactions with you.  Look at the pictures on these accounts – despite the enormous followings, most have low engagement on each photo.

Too bad, some of them are good photographers.  They could probably grow some valuable followings if they did it sincerely.

Don’t be selfish.  If you want to interact with people, do it because you want to interact with them.  Not because you only want to boost your numbers.

The Instagram Effect

“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” – Susan Meiselas

My God, if I see one more photo of someone wearing a headlamp and staring up at the night sky…  Do something original.  Show us what you can do!

And go somewhere else. 

Consider the following: at the beginning of 2013, Instagram had 90 million active users.  Yosemite National Park saw 3.69 million visitors.  By the end of 2016, Instagram had 600 million active users, and Yosemite saw 5.2 million visitors.  That’s an average of over 4,000 extra visitors per day, but in reality, the increased numbers are concentrated in the summer months.  Search and rescue operations also doubled, but that’s a discussion for another day (see The tragic rise of selfie deaths).

Am I saying there’s a direct correlation?  No, not 100%, but read these:

There is just so much out there, we don’t all need to stand on the same point and take the same photo.  These fragile places can’t handle it.

Yes, you should absolutely see these natural wonders before you die.  No, you shouldn’t be going there just for your Instagram feed.

Why are you clicking the shutter?

So the next time you go out with your camera, ask yourself, “Am I only making this picture to feed my ego and please my fans on Instagram?”  If your answer is yes, may I suggest you reevaluate your social media usage?

I’d love to hear what your opinions are so please leave a comment below.

“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.” – Ralph Hattersley

Tom

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

YouTube is next. The amount of content that's been regurgitated on there regarding photography (landscape photography specifically) over the last 4 years is just ridiculous. I'm sure it's having an effect on the environment seeing so many YouTubers trample around epic places.

But this is what people see and assume photography/life is when they search for this stuff, just whatever works for the algorithm. What's interesting is that we all post the same crap, fed the same content, see the same rubbish on YouTube then start the same channels as everyone else only to scratch our heads wondering why it's so hard to get noticed.

On top of all this there is the over consumption of targeted content. Even when you search for something you'll get ads, pop ups, channel recommendations etc etc related to that search on top the sheer volume of content being churned out 24/7, there's just no subtlety anymore.

John Peltier

Friday 26th of February 2021

Definitely a very content/ad-driven world for so many people.

Jacqueline

Sunday 29th of September 2019

I knew just tired of seeing half naked women on Social media. I feel like, if you don’t look like a half naked Kylie Jenner, no guys will like you, and we should not have to feel a certain way. First off, there’s naked men on Instagram and naked girls and when I report, nothing is DONE, and it’s like “do I have to be naked to get followers and likes” is that what it’s come down to now? It’s depressing because you want to show your skills and take photos and it’s hard to avoid these things because they POP on the Instagram feed, and it’s sad that the majority of guys follow these fake females who are homebodies and wear tons and tons of makeup and do not do ANYTHING but get attention. Meanwhile, there’s females/males who are beautiful, natural and get no likes. I’m not asking, but, why aren’t there more naked men on Instagram/ANY social media platform than females? Why? Because some women don’t have respect and it sells, they know, that, if they got a butt injection or lip injections that they’ll get likes. And it happens, but we don’t know what it’s REALLY like behind that photo. And I wish people weren’t so naive and I wish Instagram could know that I’d you show your boobs or ass in photos that it needs to be deleted. It’s unacceptable. There’s children who make social media and of course they will look. And I think there should be limitations. Instagram ruins relationships. If I’m in a relationship and my husband/boyfriend or even WIFE/girlfriend is following inappropriate pages... is that really love? Why look at other women or men when you have the real THING in front of you. Cars, people post photos of their modified vehicles for clout, or whatever these kids say nowadays. Everything is posted for attention, and it’s sad. I just wish Instagram could get rid of anything inappropriate, we want something that uplifts everyone. Yes, it’s great to follow celebrities because sometimes that’s the closest way to get close to your favorite role model, BUT you know these non certified account who are posting naked for likes it’s so unreal, it’s all fake and staged and photoshopped! And many people are oblivious to it. I feel like I have so much more to say, maybe I’ll write an article, but I couldn’t agree more with you.

Ritesh

Saturday 11th of April 2020

That's the world we live in today. Society is pretty much all about mindlessly following trends and gimmicks, lapping up what your favourite politicians spout and be lost in the endless cycle of destructive consumerism.

When you add social media to that mix, you get an entire generation of depressed, lonely, brain-dead minions who look up to narcissists and "influencers" for some apparent positive value addition to their pointless lives. It's a system of toxicity that's consuming an entire generation and destroying society in all kinds of ways. Everyone does the same, sounds the same, follows the same shit and wants the same shit.. it's difficult to see any positive outcome out of all this. This decade is probably the worst I've witnessed in my entire life and it's only getting worse.

I'm just glad I got off Facebook a few years ago, it's an amazing sense of freedom and calm. I missed none of it and never wanted to get back on it.

Instagram, yes, I'm still on it and do post regularly, but, I don't give two hoots about the number of likes or followers. I do not follow any trends or the latest photography fads or conform to the 'portrait orientation only' mandate or 'colour coordinate the feed'. I post whatever I want to, whatever photo I took, without any of that corporate meeting room planning. It's photography for heaven's sake, not an ad campaign.

InRussetShadows

Wednesday 9th of May 2018

Excellent article. The social media burnout is coming. The emphasis upon community and a greater insistence that people put their phones on silent in public places is a long slow tide gradually consuming the self-importance of the social media universe.

John Peltier

Wednesday 9th of May 2018

Thanks, yes I think it is. Some musicians are already making concert-goers put their phones in locked pouches during shows, to force them to enjoy the show the normal way versus watching the concerts through their phones for one lousy Instagram video. Hopefully we get back to a point where we won’t have to force people to do this; they’ll just want to do it on their own.

two by tour

Tuesday 30th of January 2018

So much yes. You're right, those behaviors are distasteful. I tend to keep Instagram as a photographic journal, and so, have some stellar photos of unique places I've been. However, it always irks me when I see the same "influencers" follow me after a particular post does especially well. They've obviously unfollowed me at some point and then followed me again in an embarrassingly ignorant display. Way to tell it like it is. The fact that so many people you attempted to interview reacted so poorly to your questioning says so much.

John Peltier

Tuesday 30th of January 2018

You guys are doing a great job of maintaining your feed as a photographic journal, keep it looking genuine! I had one guy follow me three times in two weeks. That was before I started calling people out. I wish I did! Just blocked him instead. Thanks for the comment!

Otis DuPont (Drunkphotography.

Sunday 28th of January 2018

Great write-up! I feel the same, and I guess this is the real reason I'm reluctant to get on FB or IG. I try to get people to go with me to places, and its true, if it is not going to get them high IG points, people arent interested. You killed me that head lamp photo comment. Lol

John Peltier

Sunday 28th of January 2018

I knew that'd get to someone! I've done some cliché things in my life but never headlamp-staring-into-space cliché :) If people don't want to travel with me for my charming personality, but for the photos they'd get...their loss!