In a digital era, communication has changed significantly, yet the depth and breadth of those changes still require thorough assessment. Messengers, social networks, image boards, forums, and other forms of online platforms for exchanging information present a wide field for research and exploration. Given the fact that the users of those media have a diverse background and are, for the most part, unlimited in the ways of self-expression, these tools exhibit a multidirectional influence on participants’ culture and society.
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Instagram is a good example of a social platform where people spend many hours creating and viewing content. In the process, meanings are translated, recreated, and perceived, all of which have a tremendous impact on the world. The present work will undertake the exploration of Instagram as an example of digital communication technology, pathways in which it influences and is affected by culture, as well as its future development.
An Overview of Instagram
Instagram is a social network that allows its users to share photos, pictures, gifs, and videos, rating and commenting on them. Recently, Instagram has developed into a widespread communication platform by adding a feature that enables users to exchange messages in a chat. However, visual communication still constitutes a major share of generated content. For the purposes of broader content distribution, people tend to use hashtags. Among major affordances are also rich photo and video editing mechanisms, story sharing, and discovering new content. As a business, Instagram developed into a large-scale corporation that employed 33 people and was expected to earn 8 billion dollars in revenues as compared to about two billion in 2013 (Frier).
Since its acquisition by Facebook in 2012, there has been little data on Instagram’s financial performance, yet analysts’ estimates suggest that it has generated a huge audience influx, which means advertisement contracts and, often, prosperity. Despite the value of Instagram as a platform for digital communication, its standalone cultural influence is rather limited. This resource helps users to share their experiences and can hardly be called the tool generating unique content.
Cultural Impact of Instagram at Individual Level
Instagram as a cultural phenomenon has developed into a necessary attribute of many people’s digital life. Today, individuals are more willing to share visual representations of their meaningful moments and do it with the style they have never imagined they possessed.
The automated filters help almost any user improve his or her pictures, which, according to Leslie, has made Instagram so addictive. On the one hand, such an opportunity empowers people to pursue their creativity and experimentation by developing new meanings and uncovering their potential by providing necessary tools. It allows people who previously were shy or reluctant to take pictures and share their way of life, vision, or emotions, doing so with ease and finesse. On the individual level, it fosters cultural exchange and the involvement of a large mass of people in enriching the cultural profile of a nation.
On the other hand, it can be argued that it gives only an illusion of power and contributes to the devaluation of meaningful events and degradation of personal independence. Due to the fact that Instagram offers the possibility of rating photos with likes, it creates a vast field for narcissism. People tend to post more photos because it serves the purpose of receiving the necessary dose of dopamine from social interactions, thereby transforming meaningful sharing into a routine for obtaining approval.
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Such a trend seems to intensify the antagonism between beauty and non-beauty, popular vs. innovation and originality. An individual may estimate which posts or pictures gather more positive social responses and tend to lead or pretend to lead the way of life that can be evaluated highly. This creates an individual overemphasis on social comparison and dependence of self-worth from approval (Stapleton et al. 142).
However, there are dissimilarities in the reasons why people use Instagram and why its contribution to individual cultural identity is also different. Sheldon et al. note that in Croatia, students prefer to use Instagram to reinforce the social connection through posting events attributed to interactions with others (644). On the contrary, in the US, the tendency among adolescents and young adults is more focused on self-promotion.
As one may argue, Instagram reinforces cultural tendencies, making them more pronounced on an individual scale. Thus, in accordance with Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions, Croatia is a highly collectivist nation in contrast to America’s emphasis on individualism (“Compare Countries”). Given that, although initially, Instagram provided many tools for individuals to express their selves, underlying cultural patterns do not seem to have changed on an individual level.
Cultural Impact of Instagram on Groups
In a broader sense, Instagram influences the masses in terms of setting and spreading trends. A few popular individuals, for instance, Kanye West or Beyonce, who are called Instagram influencers by creating content inspire others to adopt their lifestyle, habits, or clothing styles. Serving as a platform for fast sharing that is possible through the use of hashtags, certain trends make a large impact on individuals’ perception concerning specific phenomena among different cultures, for instance, body images.
Holland and Tiggemann tend to find a strong association between photo-sharing and the perception of the physical constitution (110). Nonetheless, cultural dissimilarities or commonalities witness a few studies suggesting that those with negative body images prefer to seek information on others rather than share their content (Lee et al. 1343). According to Bakhshi et al., the photos of approximately 32% of faces are more likely to generate a response than other types of pictures. Thus, consequences for evaluation and judgment can be tough for people who do not seem to meet common global beauty standards, for instance, the absence of skin imperfections.
This trend seems to underline the existence of the common perception of beauty, which, due to globalization and increasing the westernization of the world, influences the ideals in the masses. Instagram, in this case, serves as a mediator; therefore, its role is diminished. However, digital facilitation and the speed it provides are critical for a trend to become global and influence culture.
Role of Culture in Shaping Instagram
Due to the fact that Instagram was created within the American cultural environment, it largely represents western values. In line with the aforementioned research by Sheldon et al., it may be assumed that the content generated on this platform in the US is influenced by values for individual success, power, and wealth (643). This notion seems to give ground to the tendency of the app to offer instruments that beautify or make the reality more attractive and aesthetic (such as filters).
Yet, as Instagram transcended the borders, there is no significant global effect on its development. However, it may be noted that online content is moderated in accordance with international views on certain themes, for instance, terrorism.
Extremist propaganda, verbal abuse, or the demonstration of violence tend to be monitored and deleted when issues reach particular social resonance. Sexually explicit content is also not allowed, which preserves multicultural values for nudity as something that needs to be avoided in public. Given that, Instagram seems to eliminate or at least preserve a cultural status quo, which is a positive agenda aimed at demonstrating, sharing, and creating new connections and meaningful content free from any abuse.
Yet, perhaps, it is Instagram’s cultural neutrality per se that has made the application popular worldwide. If one adopts understanding that the platform is the storage content generated by its users, it develops in a variety of cultural directions and in none of them at the same time. Similarly, the concept of mediatization as the process of changing the global communication patterns seems to be infused with a multitude of cultural meanings (Hepp et al. 314).
The accumulation of instruments that only facilitate content while abstaining from shaping it is what makes Instagram free from cultural influences. Arguably, in its development, it retains only those elements that reinforce the efficiency of its functions as a communication platform, such as integration with other media.
Future Development of Instagram
Presumably, Instagram will not change dramatically in terms of forms as it will try to retain its main function as a social media used for sharing photo and video content. Since it facilitates the majority of audiences, the ways it can develop in the future will be possibly connected with the quality of services and new features. As mentioned before, Facebook only moderates content on Instagram and does not take an active part in developing the platform in any cultural direction whatsoever.
If it wants to retain the massive audience, Instagram is to remain impartial and faceless, allowing its users to decide what it is for them. The homogenization and globalization of culture under the influence of western ideas could probably induce further changes into what is popular in the network.
Therefore, Instagram as technology will unlikely revolutionize western, eastern, or other cultures due to the preservation of the economically viable role of a trend conductor. Moreover, as Worrall notes, those algorithms that are embedded in this online platform allow controlling the level of the target audience’s interest, which makes this resource valuable in terms of convenience. Essentially, Instagram has fulfilled its purpose of giving people the means and desire to share visual snapshots of their life, and it needs to reinforce it by adding more functions.
When summarizing the discussion, Instagram imbues cultural meanings mostly to the extent of user-generated content that it accommodates. Due to its main role as a conductor and facilitator of trends, giving leadership in all aspects to trendsetters, its influence on culture in any country is rather limited. The only cultural trend that it maintains is the preservation of the status quo through the moderation of content. Since western values for wealth, power, and beauty are dominant in Instagram, it unwillingly translates them to other countries, contributing to globalization and cultural homogeneity. Therefore, increasing the role of the application means expanding its influence
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Bakhshi, Saeideh, et al. “Faces Engage Us: Photos with Faces Attract More Likes and Comments on Instagram.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM, 2014, pp. 965-974.
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