Reflections of Unoriginality: Repetition of Social Media
“We live in a participatory culture.” An easy enough statement to make if you look at the way we interact, communicate and identify ourselves in society today.
We’ve all hashtagged something, followed a clothing brand on Instagram or shared an event on Facebook with a friend. We’ve posted hundreds of statuses about our lives and how they relate and compare to others in our vast online and offline networks of friends. Our identities are built on this new found habit of sharing, liking and participating in the emerging trends in our own unique way.
This seems all well and good right? “Hurray for emerging individuality, broader opinions and wider connections!”
As mid-afternoon breaks, I’m sitting here on campus, knee deep in assignments, papers and creative projects. My main focus right now, a paper for my Consumer Identities class, the topic covering participatory culture and the influence of social media. I have all the pieces to throw together this reflection paper, but there’s another message buried inside this discussion, and it’s something that’s been eating me up for the past few weeks.
As a content creator heavily influenced by social media or even as Journalism student studying in the ‘Golden Age’ of social media, I’d say that I’m quite the advocate for participatory culture.
In contrast to this, however, over the past few weeks, I’ve had interesting conversations about the negative connotations of this social media culture. We’re at a point now where every single feed we follow (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) it’s all connected to an algorithm that takes the liberty of filtering and personalising the content that shows up on your phone or computer screen.
“It doesn’t just predict whether you’ll actually hit the like button on a post based on your past behavior. It also predicts whether you’ll click, comment, share, or hide it, or even mark it as spam. It will predict each of these outcomes, and others, with a certain degree of confidence, then combine them all to produce a single relevancy score that’s specific to both you and that post. Once every possible post in your feed has received its relevancy score, the sorting algorithm can put them in the order that you’ll see them on the screen. The post you see at the top of your feed, then, has been chosen over thousands of others as the one most likely to make you laugh, cry, smile, click, like, share, or comment.”
— Will Oremus, Who Controls Your Facebook Feed?
For most of us, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that on the surface. Facebook provides you with pictures you want to see, videos you want to watch, and articles you agree with, but for me as a journalism student with a creative drive, this irritates me.
I’ve been classed by many personality tests and by people as someone who’s innovative. Someone that seeks new ideas, trends and platforms to jump on and develop. I’m at my best when I’m creating, yet lately, I’ve been feeling incredibly…
Channels that used to provide me with inspirational ideas have now blurred together into one big repetition. More so now am I tagged in student or ‘adulting’ memes rather than unique and creative articles that once motivated me to get outside and create.
In addition to this, I came across an article a friend shared highlighting how uncreative Instagram is becoming. The photos receiving the most likes and resulting in the most follows are repetitive, mirror copies of places or setups we’ve seen before. We have a drug-like response to these images. They stimulate us and lead us to recreate these artificial moments in hopes to capture that feeling for ourselves, neglecting the more powerful rush of doing something creative and original.
“Where the problem for me is that no one talks about [getting permits and staging photos for commercial shoots]. So the copycats think that it’s real, or the kids think that it’s real, and people who are just trying to get into going outside think that it’s real…and then they go and do it.”
— Luisa Jeffery, How Social Media Perpetuates Cliché Photography
Many people, including myself, get a tunnel vision effect. We see a landscape that we’ve seen before and are instantly fixated on replicating the shot. This is a false idea of nature and goes against the whole point of getting outdoors and seeing the world through your own eyes. This craze is a direct product of social media repetition.
The issue isn’t necessarily the content we take in and interact with, it’s how we receive it. I’m not crusading a boycott of algorithm-based platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. I’m still going to post on Instagram daily and react to memes that my friends tag me in, but I’m taking a few extra steps to gather a broader range of information.
Step Number One: Email Newsletter Subscriptions
I’ve been coming across some fascinating and truly inspirational blog based websites that offer insights into the world of photography and travel. Websites like The Field Mag or Vancouver Trails, a site where I’ve found multiple hikes that go under the mainstream radar.
It’s content I’ve yet to see cross my mainstream feeds, and something I want to have constant access to, so when they ask to send me emails, instead of ignoring the annoying pop-up box, I simply type my email!
I see it almost as a ‘post-newspaper.’ It’s relevant new information delivered right to you every day or two.
Step Number Two: Reading Actual Newspapers
I feel guilty as a Journalism student not doing this enough already. It goes without saying that a lot of the world passes through print media still, and while it does have its flaws, newspapers are still a highly valuable source for new and relevant information.
Step Number Three: Create More
It’s always a goal of mine to create more, but I truly mean ‘creating.’ Adaptations are becoming too similar, and there are not enough voices in the mainstream constructing their own identities.
Enough of the repetition. It’s time to look at the world through my own eyes.
Step Number Four: Break the Algorithm
It will take some time and dedication, but over the next few weeks, I want to open up new channels of information in order to cheat my way through the algorithm. Trick the feeds into giving me a broader range of articles, photos and videos.
It’s difficult, but nowhere near impossible and I won’t be alone. I’ve shared a few discussions with fellow students that want to do the same thing. Through our collective insights I know we can make the change.
With all this in mind, I hope to do a lot more reading and reviewing to gather a wider focus of the world around me. Having constant inspiration allows me to be in a state of mind to create and share my own stories either through these blogs, with video or photography.Our participatory culture isn’t a terrible construct, just flawed in some senses. We cannot let mainstream media channels control what we see.
It takes some dedication and initiative, but the result is a fuller mind, a strengthened and more open opinion and a larger idea of what the world is about. That seems like a culture I want to participate in.
I’m an active adventurer exploring and capturing the stories of British Columbia, Canada. My photographs can be found and followed on my Instagram and here on Medium. Claps and Comments are appreciated!