By: Kyleigh Meyers-VanDouser
March 17th, 2023
It’s been a long day at work. A typical day during the week includes sitting through lectures, completing homework between classes, brisk walks to each building and keeping warm enough under hats and scarves and trudging on. After the sun sets and the day ends, there are a few options for what to do next. Perhaps it is making something to eat, completing chores or finding something another way to pass the time. For many, this means reaching for a little gadget in their back pocket, which is particularly popular with Generation Z. Over the past few years, there is a new style to taking photos and posting them online called “photo dumps.”
Unlock and swipe and it’s hard to draw attention away from the sunset haze of the purple, orange and pink Instagram app. Soon enough, an Instagram user will find themselves scrolling through collections of photos that look like zoomed-in details of subjects that used to be “un-Instagrammable.” Now, people from influencers to college students alike post photo dumps. These are individual Instagram posts with up to 10 photos attached, each attempting a visual look of a casual, aesthetically pleasing collection of photos that represent what is happening in their lives at that moment.
To those unfamiliar with photo dumps, this concept or trend seems harmless, even carefree.
What is not so obvious is that these collections are just as curated as before, incurring the strict image standards Instagram used to impose upon users. Only those original standards led to the app being publicly blamed for a decrease in mental health upon exposure to the app.
Instagram launched programs to combat these problems. On their official website, programs titled “Pressure to be Perfect” and “Speaking Authentically” streamline as the first two video guides to showcase their community brand values.
Something easily overlooked is that Instagram is a massively lucrative and powerful company now owned by Meta (as of 2012) with few in power of keeping your attention in any way it can. Instagram and similar social media platforms have sociological and psychological power to influence users, and it’s not just something they are capable of, it is built into their design. These free-to-download platforms capture and sell attention paid by users and sell to advertisers by any means necessary. In fact, this system is the prominent aspect of their business models. Big tech companies are not particularly concerned about the ethics of how much power they hold, only if they can use it to get engagement time and advertisement revenue.
Recent graduate Alexa Delon, now a paralegal, said that she did not post photo dumps on her account, even though she found them cute, “because [she] forgets to take pictures of said moments or they don’t fit the aesthetic [she is] aiming for.” Though Delon is not an influencer, nor working in social media, photography, modeling or the arts, she is aware of the style constraints that photo dumps can impose. However, despite her opposition to photo dumps, Delon eventually decided to post one.
The times in our lives that truly matter, are we deliberately paying attention?
Or are we taking photos, because it looks like it could be posted on social media later?
As a society, the answer may not be fully understood. Instead, individual consideration may be the key to finding the answers.
However, using social media in order to become a social media Influencer as a career is another matter. These are professional individuals who build a brand and produce media that takes acquiring skills and knowledge in photography, marketing, modeling and content creation to name a few. Using Instagram, for example, in order to post a photo of ordinary personal life to an audience under 1,000 followers, requires a far less strategic relationship to the platform than a person who uses the same platform to earn an ad sponsorship deal to a following of 300,000.
Vivian Tran, a senior majoring in supply chain management, describes her relationship with Instagram and social media from a detached and calculated viewpoint. When she chose to post on her personal account in the photo dump style, she said, “For me, it’s still a filtered version of photos. I chose those photos very intentionally…I know that it’s all curated.”
Are we ignoring our own lives to take advantage of fitting the expectations off and online?
What are your most intimate dreams? How did you sleep last night? When was the last time you embraced someone you cared about? Are you lonely? In the age of online over-communication and information overload, it is hard to remember that there are things we can choose. We can choose to listen to what is in our hearts. Feeling the ground beneath our feet, feeding our mouths and souls with warmth when it’s cold out.
Photo dumps look like photos of plates of food, sunsets, friends hanging out, architectural details or anything of that nature. They represent humanity being drawn to the imperfectness or intimacy of their lives. The risk of those moments going by unnoticed is eliminated by the proof in a picture.
As humanity spends more and more time with digital technology, there is less and less time for natural/instinctive introspection. A desire for connection is what draws users to social media (that and entertainment), but research studies have noticed another connection “between use of social media and its undesirable outcomes that increase incidence of anxiety, stress, depression, body image concerns, and loneliness in teens and young adults.” It is not something to ignore in pursuit of the benefits. The question avid social media users need to ask themselves is if they are being mindful of their attention.
The danger of avid social media use is the amount of attention and the amount of time spent on it. In this article, Dr. Christopher Willard breaks down a mindfulness exercise for using social media. Perhaps enjoying a moment in time without the thought of posting it online can be a good thing. Allowing something superficial to take control over life certainly sours the experience, so users may decide to choose when to take the photo and when to not. After all, there is a brief moment before tapping the button.
Kyleigh Meyers-VanDouser is a senior majoring in Professional and Public Writing with a Korean minor. She has a passion for writing and an eagerness to explore diverse career opportunities. In her free time, she enjoys painting, book clubs, movies, and tennis.