[ARTS OPINION] Instagram can’t ever be casual

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Siri Pattison

Social media platforms are a highlight reel, and Instagram is the most performative of them all. Yes, casual Instagram is good in theory. But it’s not really possible.

Out of all the social media platforms, Instagram is the ultimate performance. The site launched in 2010, and has been a cornerstone of online life since, only increasing in popularity over the years. Different social media platforms have different personas and niches, and users often change how they behave on the different sites according to what the norm is on the given platform. If there is something funny or spontaneous to say, one will likely head to Twitter, and one probably will not post the same things on LinkedIn as they do on Snapchat. In the recent years of social media, Instagram has been home to highly curated photo-oriented content.

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey reported that 72% of teenagers are on Instagram, and 15% say it’s their most frequently visited site. Feeds are filled with highly edited (though the trick is to make it look untouched), planned, and posed photos. There are entire apps devoted to planning user’s posts layout on their profile, and users work on other platforms to edit their photos before posting. This culture distances users from reality, but on a platform that for many teenagers, replicates or replaces real life. For this reason, users develop a warped sense of what others look like, the things they are doing, the people they hang out with, all from a screen.

But many have critiqued the way Instagram is used, and begun to push back against the expectation of perfection with the idea of a casual Instagram feed. Social media isn’t real life, but can it resemble it a little more? Casual Instagram users reject filters, presets, and planning for spontaneous posting that captures reality more accurately. The trend hopes to be an antidote to the stress that Instagram creates when posts resemble perfection only because they are highly orchestrated behind the scenes.

It’s hard to define casual Instagram posts because they are defined simply by what they are not.”

— Siri Pattison

A picture of little flowers in the grass, a picture of a latte, a picture of friends in a car. It’s hard to define casual Instagram posts because they are defined simply by what they are not. Though, what motivates using Instagram “casually”? The line between what is truly casual and what is still curated, but to look effortless, is thin. While a casual Instagram is good in theory, it still demands an aesthetic standard that people feel as though they have to reach. Even if users ditch editing and posing, the nature of the platform is still the same—comparative and competitive. Casual Instagram may promote a more realistic portrayal of life and alleviate stress surrounding what a feed “should” look like, but it can’t be expected to be truly effortless. It creates a posting paradox, where participants are using Instagram informally to be a part of the trend and fit into an aesthetic niche—something that isn’t casual at all.

Whether or not a feed looks casual, it still is not real life and cannot be expected to be. Instagram will always be a performance.