I was a freshman in college when Facebook died. It didn't actually die, but rather, it stopped being a social media platform that young people actually used, which is to say it lost all relevancy. In 2017, I primarily opened Facebook for three things: coordinating with campus organizations in Facebook groups, looking at my college meme page, and posting photo albums at the end of each semester.
During the week before finals, in a tried and true procrastination technique, all my friends would go through their photos from the semester and carefully pick out all the photos that best conveyed "I am having fun in college." Then they would upload them into a Facebook album that was typically titled with a silly, unfunny joke that reflected which year in college they were in, like "Senior Citizen" or "Sophomore Slump."
A Facebook album was your b-roll of the semester.
At the time, posting a Facebook album was a little self-involved and cringey. You expect someone to go through 50 photos from your sorority’s date party? C'mon. But most people still did it. It was a way to document all of the mundane moments that weren’t Instagram-worthy. A Facebook album was your b-roll of the semester.
Today, photo dumps on Instagram have replaced the Facebook album. I'm no longer in college, and I never open Facebook anymore, but I've watched my former classmates post countless semester-in-review photo dumps that feel oddly reminiscent of my Facebook album days. I'm not the only one who's noticed.
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To be clear, I find posting on Instagram mortifying. I still do it, but I'm embarrassed when I post. I even feel embarrassed when I look at other people’s posts. It’s the way I felt about Facebook albums. I've gone through stretches where I deactivate my account or don’t post, but ultimately, if other people are getting attention for posting flattering pictures of themselves then I want that, too. And once you start posting and racking up likes, it's kind of addictive.
At some point, however, I noticed a change. Instagram is slowly dying. A 2021 survey from financial services firm Piper Sandler found that only 22 percent of teenagers said Instagram was their favorite social media platform, coming in third after Snapchat and TikTok. Back in 2015, the same survey showed Instagram as the preferred social media app among teens, with 33 percent of participants claiming it as their favorite. In that time, the platform has undergone significant changes.
In 2016, the platform introduced in-feed shopping and switched from a chronological feed to an algorithm. In 2017, the app introduced recommended posts. And in the years since, Instagram has become more about e-commerce and less about sharing photos with your friends. Today, our feeds are inundated with sponsored content and recommended posts — and a photo disappears as soon as you like it, making it hard to see what your friends are posting. The updates to Instagram are so unpopular that Instagram announced it is working on bringing back the option to have a chronological feed.
Additionally, Instagram launched Reels, a worse version of TikTok, in August 2020, and they're planning to "double down" on the video product in 2022. Instagram wants to do everything — become a destination where users create and watch short-form video content; shop for things they don’t really need but definitely want; and share snippets of their lives in Stories — but it's losing sight of why young users liked it in the first place: It's a destination to curate your own aesthetic and, therefore, your identity. The influx of photo dumps and the desperate attempts by Instagram to stay cool are the writing on the wall that the platform is on its way out as a social media platform for young people.
Instead, it’s on the same downward trajectory as Facebook, now both owned by Meta.
Casual Instagram is all about a studied carelessness. These photos make beauty seem accidental.
Not only has the app itself changed, but the way young people post on Instagram has shifted since the start of the pandemic. There used to be perfect grids full of photos with subtle VSCO filters. This made Instagram an obvious highlight reel of your life. The new Instagram norms don’t make that so clear.
In 2020, the idea of posting casually on Instagram took hold. Casual Instagram is all about a studied carelessness. These photos make beauty seem accidental. They're slices of life. It might involve posting a blurry photo that says, "I am having too much fun to stop and take a photo."
SEE ALSO: TikTok cried 'make Instagram casual,' and now users are having second thoughts
At first, TikTokkers were encouraging their followers to post casually. The idea was well-intended. On the surface, it urges people to be more real on Instagram and to post photos from their daily life, but like anything on social media, it’s still a performance. In the past couple of weeks, TikTok users have started voicing their concerns about the trend. In one video, @cozyakili explains how posting casually on Instagram is more curated than people think. He likens casual Instagram to reality television because they are both hyperreal performances. Posting casual photo dumps on Instagram makes your life an aesthetic even more than before.
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These conversations around posting casually recognize the discomfort and irony surrounding this way of posting. We understand that the trend isn't casual, and that Instagram hasn't been casual since it came out in 2010 — when everyone just posted random objects with heavy filters and twee captions. In fact, nothing about Instagram is casual.
If we can see that Instagram is entering its Facebook by acknowledging the unpleasantness of posting casually, then at what point do we just stop opening the app altogether?
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