You tweak the lighting and saturation, crop out the stranger in the background, craft a rhythmic caption with perfectly placed punctuation, and select “save draft.” It may be 11:30 in the morning, but we all know prime posting time is between 5:00-6:00 pm.
It’s an Instagram world, and we’re all living in it.
In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan developed the Media Ecology theory. Media Ecology is the study of different personal and social environments created by using different communication technology. In his theory, McLuhan argued that “the medium is the message” rather than the content. In essence, he said that what you post doesn’t actually matter; it’s the medium through which you communicate that is significant.
Mediums can range from books and newspapers to TVs, cell phones, websites, radios, and emails. Nowadays mediums can include digital advertisements, social media posts, and text messages as well. McLuhan believed that different types of mediums condition our senses to take in some stimuli and not register others. For example, there’s a huge difference between a “favorite” on Twitter and a “like” on Instagram even though both involve clicking little hearts on people’s posts. Even something as simple as a paperback book versus its Kindle edition creates a change in the medium, and that difference affects the receiver of the content.
Consider culture’s aesthetic. If you’ve been following my “Communication & Pop Culture” journey this semester, you’ll remember that aesthetic is defined as being the appreciation of beauty. If you’re like me, hearing the word “aesthetic” reminds you of perfectly curated Instagram feeds sharing poignant messages through snapshots of their grids. Maybe you’re like me and have attempted to curate your feed’s aesthetic, posting pictures that coordinate in color schemes and content themes to build an account that truly represents everything you are and hope to be.
Maybe you’re like me and scratch your head because no matter what filter you buy and try you never feel like you’re really achieving your aspiration.
Maybe you’re like me and wonder if people will appreciate the beauty you create.
Maybe you’re like me and contemplate getting rid of Instagram all together.
Media Ecology would say that it doesn’t matter what photo and caption you post on Instagram; all that matters is that it’s shared through the lens of Instagram. Posting the same combo on Facebook would achieve an entirely different result simply because it’s Facebook and not IG. If you follow that train of thought, to communicate your message effectively you’ll have to figure out how to use each individual medium to tell your story. Forget mastering one platform; you’ll need to know them all and know them well.
Tiring, right? That’s a lot of work just to maintain your virtual aesthetic. Forget living real life at the same time.
If I’ve learned anything from studying Media Ecology this week, it’s that we’re all living life in pursuit of aesthetic whether we recognize it or not. And for those of you who read that, chuckled, and told yourself that this doesn’t apply to you because you go against the grain and rebel against what culture says is “in,” that’s an aesthetic too. Just sayin’.
Anyone who spends any time at all putting together a social media post is spending time creating an aesthetic of what they think is beautiful. Your private “finsta” is an aesthetic you created even though you claim it’s only spam. You made it and posted it; you’re assigning that content value and seeking feedback from others. Forget the actual content; it’s the medium of Instagram – or should I call it our “instant camera telegram” – that’s really important to your message.
I’ve been debating this question all day long: “Can I ever arrive at the end of aesthetic?” If we’re constantly trying to create an appreciation of beauty, when do we get to sit back and enjoy the things we’ve created? Will we ever be satisfied?
Whenever I post on Instagram, I’m satisfied for about four days before I feel the need to post again to continue establishing my aesthetic, because if I don’t post consistently then my appreciated beauty is out-of-date and irrelevant (Instagram is supposed to be instant, after all). So I build a rhythm of posting to keep my followers intrigued and engaged with my life, for the medium dictates my message rather than my content. When I travel, I’ll spread out sharing my photos and experiences to keep my feed consistent and current despite my vacation being weeks ago.
I’m currently staring at the “deactivate” button, wondering if this pursuit of aesthetic is really worth my time. I’m not so sure that it is.
Ironically enough, I’ll keep you posted.