Cameron’s critique of Instagram is as much aimed at us, its users, as it is at the platform itself.
What he describes is falling into the trap of posting for the algorithm instead of shooting for something richer:
Then one day I woke up and realized that I was just taking a bunch of photos attractive, typically white, women in the Holy-Shit-How-Could-You-Fuck-This-Up-If-You-Tried age bracket — and that my art, if you could still call it that, wasn’t saying anything. The word “art” warrants scrutiny too, because I constantly found myself using it to hammer a wedge between my stuff and the selfies and the memes and the self-esteem issues and the carefully-pruned online personas that everyone else thrust out into the world.
This is on my mind as I adjust to life without Facebook—a happier life, on the whole.
Instagram remains a sticking point though, as being a photographer in the modern world without a presence on Instagram feels like a violation of the default. How else are people supposed to find you? I notice it in my own behaviour as I discover new people whose work inspires me: I’d much rather see their work on Instagram than be bothered to go off-network and contend with whatever individual website design or gallery system they’ve employed to showcase their work.
Flickr? If I’m going to be on a social network, why not be where the people are? That’s not to disparage Flickr, it’s just an acknowledgement that they aren’t the default destination for imagery on the internet. I wish they were—it would make excising Facebook from my life easier. And while I could be “part of the solution” and participate there in parallel, that’s another social network to engage with when I barely have the will and energy to manage the first.
Cameron is also concerned with how the platform’s design is at odds with the desire to pursue meaning in one’s photography:
…the message of Instagram has nothing to do with its content, but rather with the breakdown of content into a near-infinite feed of visuals that are as digestible as they are immemorable. It is one continuous lateral slide of association, connecting this image to the one beside it, but never to a higher plane. It never, ever transcends.
This might be the key question that unlocks the path to a healthier Instagram experience. Finding a genuine why for using the platform that takes into account the algorithm’s inherent need to steer you away from exploration and differentiation. Internet points aren’t a good fuel for art. Without the points, the likelihood of being hired recedes too.
So what’s left?
Maybe it can be as simple as self expression, communication, and inspiration.