Looking back at a decade of Instagram

Henry Tobias Jones
10 years of Instagram: Toby Triumph

Some use Instagram to document their every move.

Every meal, every wedding, their children’s first steps — even the loss of a loved one — is all accompanied by a flurry of Stories, posts and likes. This year marks a decade of IG’s existence and it has become a visual platform for people to show the world who they are, or at least who they want to appear to be. On 6 October 2010, Kevin Systrom and Michel Krieger launched a new app ‘to make photographs fast, simple, beautiful’; little did they know that by the end of that week IG would have 100,000 users, or that just two years later it would be bought by Facebook for $1 billion. And they didn’t foresee quite how much their creation would, for better or worse, change society.

Pre-IG, Britain was a country of wallflowers who cringed when anyone name-dropped or boasted, but Instagram has changed us into a nation of ’grammers where an estimated 42 per cent (24 million Brits) of us measure our lives in likes. It’s where we go to see an idealised view of the world, where every day is sunny and every meal is Michelin starred. Simply put: where everything is filtered.

True, there is no better shop window from which to sell ourselves to prospective friends, lovers and employers, but it’s an invitation for others to judge us, too. Every job interview and first date is preceded by a cheeky ‘Insta-stalk’. It takes 15 seconds to make an impression and mid-scroll, making yourself good looking can take nothing more than flattering lighting and a killer filter. To be funny you just have to know how to repost memes. And some things never change; the truly cool still make life look effortless.

And nobody makes it look as easy as the people for whom IG has become a full-time job: influencers, a term that has matured alongside the platform. Today almost one in five British 11-to -16-year-olds wants to be an influencer when they grow up, according to a survey of 2,000 parents conducted by the marketing company, Awin.

This is the infectious appeal of Insta. Just look at Harry and Meghan (@sussexroyal, 11.2m followers). They have ditched (sort of) their once-exalted royalty, attempting to become the prince and princess of lifestyle. Even the Pope (@franciscus, 6.5m followers), whose grid has exotic trips and meetings with Buddhist monks, is more like a ‘gap yah’ Instagrammer than he might realise.

However, some argue that Instagram doesn’t encourage individuality — quite the opposite. Unless you conform to its rewards system (originally techniques like using lots of hashtags but the IG algorithm now requires users to earn likes, reshares and for video posts, views, to get good ‘feed positioning’) you won’t get anywhere. Clever, left-field thinkers such as Stephen Fry are languishing with 387,000 followers and must be looking at Cristiano Ronaldo’s 200m with bemusement. If you want to go far on IG, just do what everyone else with lots of followers does: pictures of your kids, your clothes and lots of selfies.

Not that IG’s selfie culture doesn’t come at a cost. A month ago, model Madalyn Davis fell 100ft while posing for a selfie near Sydney. A survey published in the Journal Of Family Medicine And Primary Care found that from 2011 to 2018, 259 people died while trying to get the perfect selfie.

And accidents like these are just the beginning of IG’s woes. Concerns have consistently been raised about its impact on mental health. Just last week, pop sensation Billie Eilish told fans that she’d stopped using social media because of comments left on her IG account were ‘ruining [her] life’. A 2017 survey by The Royal Society for Public Health found that 14-to-24-year-olds said IG had the worst effect on their mental health, including on major issues of anxiety, depression, bullying and ‘Fomo’.

For most of us, Instagram is just fun, but it has also held up a mirror to people’s collective quirks and idiosyncracies. The world on Instagram isn’t divided into Brexiteers and Remainers, but rather whether one is the kind of person who takes pictures of their food, or shudders at those who do, the kind of person for whom selfies are just part of modern life, or a damning indictment of modern culture. Who would have thought that a picture of an egg would be the world’s most-liked post, and what does that say about society? Here we explore the ways Instagram has changed us all for ever…

The invention of #foodporn by @ClerkenwellBoyEC1

Before Instagram, only professional critics could offer trusted opinions about restaurants. For restaurateurs and chefs, IG is the best way to get feedback about new dishes and reach millions of people — for free. So it makes sense that it’s spawned a huge list of food-worshipping accounts that have, in turn, helped launch the careers of top chefs such as Dominique Ansel, the Cronut inventor.

As Instagram has blossomed so, too, has the demand for food trucks, supper clubs and shows such as Chef’s Table on Netflix and The Great British Bake Off. Thanks to incredible phone camera quality, anyone can be a food critic — and the food industry is responding with more ’grammable content.

There are different types of foodie-grams for varied tastes. From piles of doughnuts (@crosstowndoughnuts and @breadaheadbakery) to dumplings (@dumplingshack) and oozy pizza and pasta (@pizzapilgrims and @padella_pasta). Some prefer beautifully styled flat-lay shots (@Millykr and @igbrunchclub). Others in the wellness camp share healthy home-cooking (@deliciouslyella, @we_are_food).

I focus on new openings and classic dishes across London, such as those confit potatoes at Quality Chop House and that Iberico pork sando at Tou by Tātā Eatery. I’m grateful for the experiences and opportunities I’ve gained after being ‘discovered’ on IG.

#FoodPorn isn’t just about great pictures — IG can be a force for good, too. I co-founded #CookForSyria through the platform, which has raised £1m to support refugees impacted by war. So in some ways, you really can have your cake and eat it.

Clerkenwell Boy is an award winning food and travel influencer, food judge and editor

Internet breakers: posts of the decade by Jessica Benjamin

My Life on Instagram by Laura Craik

As status updates go, my first Instagram post — a photo of a photo of my family visiting Santa’s Grotto in Harrods — was about as #basic as it gets. Posted on 10 December 2011, it garnered an ego-boosting five ‘likes’. Although to be fair, in 2011, IG ‘only’ had 10 million users and only 73 were following me.

The first post

Back then, IG didn’t feel remotely like the sphincter-clenching, self-conscious making, ego-boosting but also ego-annihilating platform that it does now. I didn’t put much thought into my posts. Most of my followers were friends, family or colleagues, so why would I? My first selfie was in August 2012 (nine likes) and my first pic of a celebrity in September 2012 (the back of Victoria Beckham’s head at New York Fashion Week: four likes). In between, I posted riveting snaps of a couple wearing matching chinos at a bus stop, my daughter eating a prawn, me surrounded by policemen at the 2012 Olympics and my daughter’s stuffed sheep on holiday with a pint (caption: ‘Sheepy likes a beer.’ Likes: seven).

Laura Craik's selfie

With such engaging content as this, it’s fair to say that nobody was going to pay me £10,000 to endorse a weight-loss tea. Yet with hindsight, I realise that in 2011, I was better placed to become an influencer than most of the eventual influencers were: I was a fashion editor whose job it was to attend the international shows, as well as all the parties. The content at my fingertips was elite: you couldn’t buy that kind of access. It was invite-only, yet here I was being paid to write about it, at complete liberty to leverage all this for personal gain and become the next Chiara Ferragni. And what did I do instead? I posted pics of my kids’ school shoes.

I eventually started posting catwalk pics, since everyone else was. We’d sit on the ‘frow’ snapping blurry pics of models (video not having been enabled), and the experience changed forever as we all ditched concentration and critical faculty for the callous distraction of a screen. Eventually, people stopped clapping at finales, their hands too busy with their phones. Heaven forfend they miss the money shot.

I was blasé right up until I went freelance in 2014. In the intervening six years, I’ve become more self-conscious about what I post: partly because my life is more boring now, but mainly because I have a phobia of showing off. I can’t bear to post links to my work. I might not post as much, but I’m still on IG 24/ 7. Addicted? Not quite — but a heavy user. I love meme accounts. And while I’ve been trolled on Instagram (the death threats were a low) the vast majority of comments have been supportive. I understand why some users feel their mental health is being compromised by the apparent perfection pedalled on the ’gram, but you wouldn’t hang out with a toxic friend IRL, so why would you give grid-time to one? Like life, IG is what you make it. It can be as dark or as light as you want it to be. I choose light. Mayfair, to be exact.

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