How much time do we spend watching videos and consuming content online? Like many of my generation, I spend the majority of my free time consuming content in a digital form — from a smartphone, an iPad, or a Kindle. On social media sites such as Instagram, we are bombarded by a wide array of visually appealing content. To some, Instagram can appear as a platform that only provides significant exposure to beautiful places, beautiful people and beautiful food. On the surface, this would be a truthful statement — the most popular Instagram influencers (aside from celebrities) often tend to be those who are the most attractive, or have the most exciting lifestyles, or the most inspiring motivational advice to hand out. You might say that Instagram represents the way we are as humans, rather than representing how technology has altered our mindsets; we seem to be hardwired to look up to people who possess assets that we don’t, and that we aspire to possess. On Twitter, there is more of a compulsion to join the discussion, but more often than not we end up retweeting others, turning our profiles into an echo chamber.
Other social media sites that are notorious for squandering time are YouTube and Tumblr. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience where we’ve settled down to watch one 3 minute video on YouTube, that then turned into a 4 hour long session that can culminate with you being lost in a playlist full of old vine compilations and the best musical.ly videos from 2016. While I’d like to believe I consume some of the more edifying content on YouTube, (channels such as the School of Life, Vox, Freshtastical, and Proactive Thinker) YouTube’s ‘recommended for you’ and ‘autoplay’ features enable us to while away our lives, consuming content with abandon as we continue to think ‘just one more’. Thanks to Chrome add-ons like AdBlocker/AdBlock Plus, the younger generation have no barriers to impede their enjoyment of watching one video after another.
Tumblr, as a microblogging website, can force users to get a little more creative in their usage of it, rather than just passively consuming content. However, the Tumblr dashboard is constantly refreshing itself, causing users to delay their logout time for fear of missing the chance to reblog the latest gifset of their favourite show/fashion ensemble/make-up look/political statement to their followers.
To clarify: I have nothing against the strategies used by these four websites, that aim to keep users engaged with content and remain on the platform for longer. I believe the problem lies with the users themselves.
Let’s tackle Instagram. Instagram has provided a platform for the most ‘ordinary’ of us to reveal our lives, our goals, our dreams and ambitions. There are many different ‘tribes’ on Instagram, and it’s possible to design a feed full of content that inspires you, whether it be vegan food, Brandon Woelfel photography, or London street shots. Yet some of us still fall into the trap of constantly liking, commenting and appreciating content that we ourselves haven’t created. It’s wonderful to be inspired by the talent and effort of others. Believe me, maintaining a high quality Instagram feed takes more work than most influencers let on, and the same goes for content on YouTube, and even Tumblr. But users should be creating their own content to add to the feedback ecosystem of sharing, liking and commenting on the efforts of others. Social media, by definition, wasn’t intended to be a space dominated by a minority while the majority submissively presses the red heart button while sycophantically commenting on the photo. Well crafted content on social media conveys a message, as well as a visually appealing image, and every individual user on social media has the capacity of producing it.
Let’s bid farewell to passivity, and become active consumers on social media.