Designing the Instapersona: Instagram and the Business of Identity
On October 6, 2010, twenty-five-thousand people signed up for Instagram within the first 24 hours of the app’s launch. During its first year, the platform gained 12 million users—a number that took Facebook two years to accomplish.¹²³ Created as a fun, accessible photo sharing app for the iPhone, Instagram has evolved into an industry of over 800 million people producing and consuming visual multimedia—500 million of whom work to upload 95 million photos like the pervasive selfie, and 300 million stories daily.†‡ Among the top social media platforms, Instagram has a reputation for its overly curated user content. The platform is full of clichéd images of sunsets, shoes, and selfies, each posted by a user as a unique experience. But why do these clichés proliferate on the app?
Users go to great lengths to produce compelling content for their Instagram feeds, including shooting hundreds of snapshots, editing photos through multiple apps, researching the best times to post content, and re-curating their Instagram feeds. Developers created hundreds of apps available to work in conjunction with Instagram, facilitating photo editing, caption generating, and calculating a user’s follower analytics. Users see these apps as tools to help them achieve popularity, but these apps create extra work for the user. Beyond the confines of digital space, lines wrap around restaurants, not to eat, but to Instagram colorful bathrooms or wall art. Foot traffic is often disrupted by an imperative Instagram moment.
Instagram advocates believe social media to be democratic, widely accessible, and a means to social affirmation. Under their own free will, users sign up, publish their own content, and choose to follow other users, all within a free app that connects users with a larger network of people and businesses. But what if Instagram is understood as a source of performative labor, in which users not only post photos onto the app, but feel compelled to perform an identity and produce content for the app.
Although Instagram is widely thought to bring self-actualization through the freedom to create, curate, and share communally, my aim for this research is to demonstrate that through its design features and functions, Instagram creates a factory of users laboring to continuously produce photos while scrolling and absorbing other individuals’, brands’, and institutions’ media. This quick consumption of content necessitates instant interpretation, resulting in visual tropes that establish the infrastructure for a hybrid identity beyond stereotype, yet more honed than archetype: the Instapersona. The work involved to establish and maintain this persona requires a constant effort on the user, who not only employs multiple apps to edit and manage their Instagram feed, but has also expanded into the physical world through designated Instagram constructions and the absorption of public spaces into Instapersona stages. While this work may not offer a concrete solution to the pervasiveness the app, I hope to shed light on an increased blurring of work versus play and the creation of a new class of pseudo-identity through Instagram’s front and back-end design.
¹ “Instagram Launches,” Instagram, January 11, 2017, https://instagram-press.com/blog/2010/10/06/instagram-launches-2/.
² “A Round of Applause for A Round of Awards!” Instagram, February 06, 2017, https://instagram-press.com/blog/2011/11/02/a-round-of-applause-for-a-round-of-awards/.
³ “Company Info,” Facebook Newsroom, Accessed March 26, 2018, https://newsroom.fb.com/company-info/.
†”Instagram’s 2017 Year in Review,” Instagram, December 01, 2017. https://instagram-press.com/blog/2017/11/29/instagrams-2017-year-in-review/.
‡ Aslam, Salman, “Instagram by the Numbers: 2018 Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts,” Omnicore, January 1, 2018, https://www.omnicoreagency.com/instagram-statistics/.