Imagine a bar, a pub or a cafe that everybody wanted to go to. Somewhere for everyone. A tropical beachside venue with a roasting log fire and views of the alps and distant desert islands. The most comprehensive jukebox in the world playing the tracks that you want to hear, just when you want to hear them. Over in the corner, a group of older people huddle convivially - playing darts, cribbage, or just bemoaning the younger generation. While over on the other side beneath the flashing lights, those only just old enough (if that) to be allowed entry compare tattoos, biceps, and lengths of mini-skirts. Then there’s you. And your mates - lots of them - swapping stories and riffing off each other’s energy and world view. Every night, it’s much the same. You can choose to spend your time with your mates, or sometimes show off your tattoos with the nippers and play cribbage with the oldies. No one minds. Hey, sometimes you don’t even show up.
It’s the best bar in the world. And the more people come, the bigger it seems to get. There’s room for everyone.
This is Instagram. It’s easy to knock it - not everyone wants the beach bar or the ski-shoes at the door alps experience from a pub - but for photo sharing, its the best place we have to display our media to a wide audience. It caters for just about everyone and the keyword is “social.”
To continue the bar analogy - if you choose to spend each evening simply enjoying yourself with your friends and were happy with that then that is fine. Good luck to you. If you want to grow your friends’ network and push the boundaries of your social circle by introducing yourself to some of the cribbage players or call above the noise to the youngsters by the door, you can. Perhaps you'll wander over, pay a compliment, offer to buy a drink, heck - you may even hold eye-contact (you old romantic, you). Some evenings someone may even come across to you - compliment you on your fine new threads, pet ferret, or ask about that friend you came in with. They might ask advice or even suggest something that would help you. This is the social carousel.
It’s not that different on Instagram. If you choose to keep yourself to yourself that’s fine. You may prefer a small following of just family and friends - and there’s nothing wrong with that. Or you may be happy to share your images more broadly, make your profile public and use hashtags so that others can find you. "Hey! I’m over here at the bar. Come and look at this!” That’s fine too. There’s room for us all.
Just remember, that when you venture across that crowded/empty barroom, dodging the table of pigeon-fanciers, the Star Wars crew, the vintage tea-bag collectors… that everyone in the bar is a person just like you. Be nice. Think before you speak. Pointing out that those brand new tan shoes would look better on your uncle than on them with that skirt - and he’s got better legs - is not the best way of developing that new friendship. If we are all going to get along in this shiny new retro antique bar, we need to support one another. Be nice.
Just like a bar, Instagram is a business. It wants more people to come in each night - and throughout the day. It’s obvious but it's not something that we seem to remember. I get as frustrated as anyone by changes to the algorithm or whatever it is that seems to keep the things we seek to control beyond arm’s reach. But if I could control or understand the algorithm, just imagine how much more control someone with even more ability and time could exercise. I wouldn’t want an Instagram that was ruled by a handful of huge accounts that had learned to play the system. I want my jukebox to play the tracks I want to hear with the occasional unexpected and interesting gem thrown in for good measure - not the ones that the big biker in the dark corner picked out or paid for.
Right now, Instagram is the best we have. Not perfect - but better than a lonely pint on your own at home. Unless that’s what you want!
So next time you feel like complaining about Instagram (or any other social photo-sharing platform) and the frustrations it brings (and I don’t deny frustrations exist), just imagine a time when the only people who got to see your images were your mum and great aunt, leafing through a dog-eared scrapbook that you had excitedly thrust under their noses while they tried to watch the wrestling.