Instagram is Dead, Long Live Instagram
If the glossy, millennial pink Instagram aesthetic no longer resonates, where do we go from here?
A perfectly manicured hand rests on a well-designed book cover, a flushed cheek decorated with a swipe of highlighter shimmers in the midday sun, an artfully arranged plate of avocado toast waits patiently atop a sleek table. These are the hallmarks of the “Instagram aesthetic,” which if a story published in The Atlantic last week is to be believed, might be ready to succumb to natural causes.
Writer Taylor Lorenz proposes that a hefty portion of Instagram users are growing tired of the app’s glossy aesthetic that privileges perfection above all else, instead gravitating towards lo-fi, run-of-the-mill photographs that purport to present a more ‘real’ version of life than a rainbow cream-cheese unicorn toast. Lorenz cites Huji Cam, an app that filters one’s photos to look they were taken on a drugstore disposable camera, being downloaded over 16 million times as an example of how this new aesthetic is taking over.
As someone born in 1989—a year demographers can’t seem to decide whether counts as Old Millennial or Young Millennial—I was around for the rise of Blog 1.0, when fashion blogging, which has morphed into what is expected to be a $10 billion industry by 2020, was not much more than adolescents borrowing their parents’ digital camera to take pictures of whatever they picked up at the thrift store that week. (I should know because I was one of them.) Those awkward mirror selfies, which would not have garnered even 10 likes on today’s Instagram, were the precursor to our current era of microinfluencers, macroinfluencers, and the widespread flattening of personal taste. Personal blogs that leveraged their popularity to become businesses, like The Blonde Salad and Man Repeller, begat our current #sponcon era, where regular-ass people joke-tweet “SPONSOR ME” at their favourite brands.
I remember how jarring and uncomfortable I found it when the internet basically gentrified and my after-school hobby suddenly became a pathway to earning six-figure salaries. At the time, I decided I didn’t want my blog to be a walking advertisement for anyone but myself and I tuned in, turned on and dropped out; a decision that now seems laughable given that “selling out” has become something people aspire to. I’m sorry, but “get that money” is only a valid call to arms if you value capitalism to begin with. Which is exactly why I find the suggestion that the pastime I once rejected for being overly commercial might be returning to its earnest roots a little bizarre. When I was a teenage fashion blogger (this sounds like the title of a B-movie) my decision to put photos out there was based solely on my desire to share my day-to-day life rather than a strategic decision to look popular online. Sure, some people ended up with huge followings, but that was a total coincidence, unlike Instagram, where that feels like the point.
It’s important to keep in mind that the people supposedly leading the charge of this lo-fi trend still fit the typical influencer mold of a skinny white woman. Just because Joana Ceddia can rack up 400k followers by posting unflattering shower cap selfies doesn’t mean that some dude from Middle America named Frank who posts underexposed photos of craft beer will somehow stumble into any lucrative sponsorship deals. Reese Blutstein is a tiny 22-year old who is constantly posts pictures of herself with just the suggestion of nipple. Her formula for popularity is clearly not going to work for everyone. All but the preternaturally thin and beautiful will probably have to stick to the recipe of rainbow bagels and unicorn toast.
That said, sharing pictures in earnest, whether they’re pretty or not, is something I wholeheartedly encourage—perhaps this new Beta version of Instagram that conceals ‘likes’ might help lead the charge—but I’m not convinced this alleged lowering of our collective aesthetic standards is going to recapture any of the magic of the pre-2008 version of the internet. After all, curating an “uncurated” feed is still another version of the same problem, right?
In a recent story on Facebook’s new video chatting device, Katie Notopoulos of Buzzfeed writes, “I’m mad that [the internet] isn’t fun anymore, that instead of a place for a cool time with buddies it’s literally destabilizing democracy and enabling genocide….I’m mad Tumblr was left to die, I’m mad about Flickr, I’m mad that the promise of an internet that seemed bursting with possibilities turned out to be bursting with horrors.”
I miss those days too, but I’m pretty sure they’re gone for good.