In the past decade, Instagram has made its way from a simple photo-sharing app to one of the most powerful mediums of the digital era. The simplicity of the concept and rapid growth of the smartphone mobile industry at the beginning of the century were the key factors that defined its success. Instagram is a medium that effectively combines the principles of modern social media culture with the “graphic revolution” effect of the 19th century.
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Numerous photo-sharing websites, such as Flickr, existed long before Instagram. However, the development of mobile technology and networks in recent years has increased the demand for mobile apps. Moreover, unlike Flickr, Instagram focuses on casual users rather than photography enthusiasts and bears more similarities to other social media platforms (Guo et al. 9). The simplicity of the interface and social engagement contributed to the dominance of the app on the market in the past few years.
All social media rely on their users to generate content and Instagram is a primary example of that. The distinctive feature of the platform is that it focuses on self-promotion rather than on communication, although users can contribute to the community via the use of hashtags (Sheldon and Bryant 90). Overall, narcissism is a trait commonly associated with social media and Instagram fits the bill perfectly.
The developers of Instagram created the brand using the combination of words “instant” and “telegram”. Interestingly, the invention of the telegram was one of the factors that anticipated the information era. Postman states that “the telegraph introduced a kind of public conversation whose form had startling characteristics: Its language was the language of headlines—sensational, fragmented, impersonal” (70). The invention of photography was another breakthrough in the media world, as the “graphic revolution” changed the perception of information forever. Postman notes that “for countless Americans, seeing, not reading, became the basis for believing” (74). Instagram embodies the principles of the media revolution of the 19th century, where immediacy replaces reflection and visuals replace texts. Notably, many other apps following the same patterns (e.g., Snapchat and Tiktok) have become popular recently.
Social media are often criticized for having a negative influence on the psychological wellbeing of the users, depression and eating disorders being among the examples. Orthorexia (malign obsession with healthy food) has proven to be one of the disorders stimulated specifically by the use of Instagram (Turner & Lefevre, 277-278). Studies have found Instagram users to encourage healthy eating, and Turner and Lefevre confirm that “social media is used to inform actual food choices” (278). While the ideas promoted by social media communities can be useful, social pressure can result in anxiety and serious health issues.
Social media in the 21st century have largely taken the place of the traditional media, using the same principles that defined success of tabloids at the end of the 19th century. Instagram is the epitome of the medium that defines the outlook of modern society. The idea behind the app is not original, but effective implementation of the vital principles and rapid growth of mobile internet ensured its dominance in the market. Much like newspapers and journals of the late 19th century, it promotes catchy content that usually neither allows nor needs much reflection. As a result, several worrying trends related to Instagram use have emerged in the past few years. Extensive use of Instagram, among other social media, can contribute to mental health issues, particularly among younger users. Instagram has proven to have a huge impact on public life, and most likely, it will remain one of the most influential social mediums in the nearest future.
Guo, Dongyan et al. “User Relationship Strength Modeling for Friend Recommendation on Instagram.” Neurocomputing, vol. 239, 2017, pp. 9-18.
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Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Penguin. 2005.
Sheldon, Pavica and Katherine Bryant. “Instagram: Motives for Its Use and Relationship to Narcissism and Contextual Age.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 58, 2016, pp. 89-97.
Turner, Pixie G. and Carmen E. Lefevre. “Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa.” Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, vol. 22, 2017, pp. 277-284.