Tag Archives: Instagram

Tales of teenage insecurity

During my hunt around Flickr and Instagram over the past week, I came across a pretty disturbing (and, indeed, confusing) Instagram account.

The page, run by one girl, invites users to tag photos of themselves, which are then shared on the page in question, with an invitation for other Instagram users to rate the photo out of 10.



The girls (they are mostly girls) appear to be teenagers; they look young, and the rather deplorable standard of the spelling and grammar in the comments support that assumption. They pout and pose in bikinis and outfits far beyond their years, all heavily-applied make up and doe eyed innocence.

The page disturbed me, because it threw into disarray my thoughts about the narcissism of youth. I’m a fairly strident opponent of the notion that the kids of today are overly narcissistic; instead, I prefer to think that the seemingly endless stream of selfies and self-promotion is simply symptomatic of the fact that there are so many tools at the disposal of youth. I thought that the levels of narcissism had probably always been the same; it’s just that today, there are so many more ways to promote yourself, and the overt sharing of oneself online just seems over the top to us older folks, but is in fact perfectly normal behaviour, given the circumstances.

But… I don’t know. I’m really confused by this Instagram page. I’m quite sure that there’s a massive element of insecurity lurking behind each girl’s decision to submit her photo for public scrutiny, but at the same time each girl must know that she is quite beautiful, because if you possessed genuine self-image issues, surely you wouldn’t put yourself in such a position. I’m not a psychologist; I don’t really understand the motives behind selfies, let alone this kind of bizarre activity. Sure, I share selfies not-irregularly, and I’m not entirely sure why I do it, but it’s certainly not motivated by the desire to have people tell me I’m beautiful or gorgeous or give me a rating out of 10. (God forbid.)

I was a teenager once and although it wasn’t that long ago, it was in a time before smartphones and social media and perpetual self-promotion. I can remember what it was like, though, to be a teenager, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have opened myself up to criticism by being featured on a site like this Instagram page. (I’m not saying the name as I don’t want this post to turn up in Google searches.) I was a painfully insecure kid, plagued by body image issues from a very young age and was certain that I was about as attractive as a dog’s breakfast. I remember believing, when I was the age of the girls featured, that I would never get a boyfriend (I did; getting one at 29 is proving much more challenging!), that I was too fat for a bikini (I wasn’t, but it took a while to realise that; I learned around the age of 22 that every body is a bikini body), and that I was really just too damn weird for public consumption (correct, but I’ve embraced it).

The existence of sites like this IG page really do make me wonder whether growing up is actually very different today to what it was 15 or so years ago. When I was a teenager, the Internet was for nerds, for goodness’ sake. It was unusual to be online, not the norm. Growing up online must be such a challenging experience. As a 14 year old, it was bad enough wondering whether I’d ever feel “acceptable”, without my photographs and my social life being plastered all over the web. I wonder what the girls who needed society’s approval – the girls who needed strangers to rate them out of 10 – did back in 1999. How did the insecure beauties from my school get the validation that they needed? Did they even need to seek it, or is behaviour like this a product of the fact that life is basically an ongoing public competition of blatant self-promotion?

It makes me feel out of touch. I am happy to share so much of my life with the world, in the form of blog posts, photos, and tweets, but at the same time I’m still very much aware of the fact that I’m a private being. All the random insecurities that arise in my own world don’t manifest in a need to have the public tell me I’m worthy. I can’t even begin to identify with what it must be like to be fifteen and perma-connected.


Mapping Perth, socially.

Today I’m working on some cool stuff to do with social mapping and geographic folksonomies.

Instamap Perth

Whuuuuut, you say?

To put it simply, when you upload content to the Internet – be it a tweet, a Facebook status, a photograph on Instagram, or any number of other ways of sharing content – you’re doing more than just sharing the information that you put out there. You’re also feeding other important information to ‘the machine’, as it were, about such things are your location, what kind of mobile phone or application you are using, and a whole range of other details – including statistics on who and what you engage with most when you’re online (keeping in mind that you have the option of turning off things like location data sharing).

At the same time, you have the option of adding information to your content. So, if you’re down at Cottesloe for a drink and a swim with some friends, you might like to add tags – such as #cottesloe, #cott, #OBH, #beach, and #summer – to your posts:

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Rather than just simply telling the network your location, this voluntary option to add information to your contributions does a number of things. It adds value to your content, makes it searchable (the tags act like keywords that users can search for) and embeds your content – and you as creator – in a network. For example, if I click on an image tagged #cottesloe, the app (this time it’s Padgram – an Instagram clone for iPad) will bring up the most recent images tagged as #cottesloe.

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Looks fairly straightforward. At this point, your images have become searchable, and they are part of a network. Cottesloe is useful as a tag as it’s very Perth-specific. It’s also a word that anyone from Perth, and indeed many people around the world will recognise, as Cottesloe Beach often ends up on lists of the city‘s and nation’s best beaches (although to a local, that might not be the case!).

Having clicked on an image tagged Cottesloe, I might see other tags, such as #beach.

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As a tag, #beach is less useful on a number of levels. First, there are many beaches around the world, so whilst tagging a photo with the term ‘beach’ certainly places that image in a wider network, it doesn’t necessarily add to the searchability of the image, especially if you are looking for something specific. (A couple of good articles that discuss folksonomy, tagging, and the usefulness of user generated content metadata are available here and here.)

An example of this is seen in clicking through the #beach tag:

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Not only does the #beach tag not return any location-specific search results, but – as you can see here – it doesn’t really return too many images that have anything to do with the beach!

There are various things that you can do to make your content more visible, and some of these are discussed in the articles I’ve linked to above. To bring this post back to my point, however – through this chapter I’m working on, I’m hoping to plot a picture of just a tiny segment of Perth’s online social media practices at this point in time. Social mapping is something that is only as good as the contributions that it includes. If people aren’t sharing data about a particular place, there’s a good chance that it’s going unnoticed by the people who occupy that space. Social media – blogs, social recommendation services, and apps like Instagram – are filling a void between physical space and virtual space, though, by injecting a dose of meaning into otherwise useful, but really rather meaningless, information.

At this stage, time really dictates how much I can explore Perth’s social map, but it’s something that I would really like to explore in the future, in the form of a project that pulls information in from across the Internet to generate not only a map of practices, experiences, and services – all bound together by user narratives – but a map that tells us something about the people of Perth and the way that they share content and information.

Flickr – the web’s most successful SNS?

As the picture above suggests, I’ve been an Flickr user for 8 years, and Instagram (though I do use it) does not even compare. One of my main reasons, other than research purposes, for using Instagram was the fact that my social network on Flickr was limited. There was nothing wrong with the site – it’s just that the kids (i.e. my friends) hadn’t caught on.

Flickr has recently launched a new smartphone app (as far as I know it’s on Android & iPhone – I’ve got an Android and it’s definitely available there) that makes navigating, sharing, and socialising easier than ever, whilst the web-based site remains as good as ever.

I’m going to comment more on the whole Instagram-photo-ownership-shebang when I’ve had my morning coffee and sorted out what this day has in store for me, but in the mean time you can read what Tama Leaver had to say about the service’s updated terms of use.

I don’t know if I’ll jump ship on Instagram entirely, but I’m going to preference Flickr once more – just like I did for 7.5 of the past 8 years.

8,993 photos in to a flickr love affair