Updated: Sep 27, 2020
'On Instagram [...] you could share and reflect [...] Instagram posts would be art, and art was a form of commentary on life' - Sarah Frier, 2020
The Call Us Angels Instagram page. Photo Credit: Charlotte Discombe.
Throughout this blog I'm going to try to work out why I decided Instagram would be the best platform to use to share my project Call Us Angels. I want to question what Instagram is, why I decided to use it for this project, and also consider the problems of using this social media site to share a project that explores the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis.
First up, let's question what is Instagram? Quite simply, this is a social media site that anyone can access for free. The premise is that you can post pictures of your life on this site, that can then be seen by anyone who 'follows' you. Each Instagram user has their own 'page', that records every single photo the user has posted on Instagram in chronological order. More recently, Instagram has allowed for videos to be posted on the site, either on your page or in a 'stories' application - a spin off of the quick communication social media app Snapchat, that allows users to record a snippet of a video to send to their friends.
Sarah Frier, journalist for Bloomsberg News, has extensively explored the social media site Instagram. Within her book No Filter: the inside story of Instagram, she takes us through the history of this social media company, from its very creation right up until it was controversially bought by Facebook in 2012. According to Frier, Instagram was initially created in order to share professional photos and artworks. By getting professional artists to share their talent on Instagram, this social media site not only became a virtual gallery, but also a platform where artists could connect with each other and collaborate. As Frier highlights, creators of the site, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, first imaged that 'Instagram posts would be art, and art was a form of commentary on life' (2020). I must admit that when reading Frier's book on Instagram, I was swept away by this artistic romanticism that started this company. Although Instagram has now become a platform where users post pictures of their fancy coffees and latest Gucci handbag instead of their artworks, I too wanted to go back to Instagram's roots and use this platform to share an artistic project in the hope that I might be able to reach out to other artists and activist similarly exploring the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis.
Out of all the social media sites I could have chosen from, why did I decide Instagram fit Call Us Angels? I think partly it was because Instagram is a lot more visually orientated than other social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. As mentioned previously, unlike these other prevalent social media channels, Instagram allows users to document and save their visual and artistic contributions (i.e. photos, videos and 'stories') in chronological order. Instagram therefore already had a framework in place to organise both Call Us Angels' weekly videos and daily vlogs. This provided the project with a simple structure both for me as an artist, but also for my audience, the majority of whom understood Instagram's framework and regularly used this social media site.
Furthermore, from the beginning of this process, I knew Call Us Angels needed to be accessible to a wide range of people. I wanted the project to rely heavily on participation and conversations with a community of women from around the world. The more conversations and participation, the more we could all learn about the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis - the ultimate aim of Call Us Angels. Having reached 1 billion users in 2018 (99 statistics, N.D.), Instagram seemed a logical choice as this is a popular social media site, home to the photos and videos of many women from across the world,
It wasn't just the visual structure of Instagram and the amount of users that attracted me to this social media site. As Call Us Angels is about sharing and learning information to do with gender and the ecological crisis, I knew I needed to find a platform where I could discuss these issues without alienating audiences. Instagram was casual and creative enough that I could make sure the discussions had during Call Us Angels were chatty, fun and accessible in a variety of mediums - photos, live streams, messenger chats etc. Furthermore, unlike other social media sites like Facebook that give you an unlimited amount of text to use with each post, Instagram limits the amount of words you can include in each post's text description (Random, 2019). As a result, Instagram forced me to be more colloquial and chatty, coming up with more creative ways to present information and research within this word limit.
Having dyslexia, I understand how intimidating and 'un-understandable' academic tone and language can be. I have often found that whilst reading and learning about the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis, I have been confused and alienated by the scientific jargon and the 'my way or the highway' tone present in academic texts exploring these issues. I knew I didn't want to show myself as a professional academic or lecturer within this project. Having text limits on Instagram made sure I really thought about how I was presenting the information I had learned about gender and the ecological crisis. By using messenger chats and questionnaires on the Instagram stories application, I hoped to include other angel's voices in Call Us Angels. The aim of this was not only to include more voices but to show that, instead of being another academic lecturing you about the ecological crisis, I was (and still am) in fact a facilitator of a community of women all learning, protesting and finding a variety of ways to discuss the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis.
Screen time. Photo Credit: Wix.
So far we have explored what Instagram is and why I felt this social media site was the right platform for Call Us Angels, but we also need to explore the problems I experienced whilst using this site.
As my 'followers' began to grow on the Call Us Angels Instagram page, it became obvious that there is a saturation of Instagram accounts all sharing action against climate change and the ecological crisis. This social media site has become an echo-chamber of liberal, activist women, something I didn't realise when I first started thinking about using Instagram as my platform for Call Us Angels. Although it has been a privilege to be a part of a community of like-minded women, protesting for the green movement, I am still thinking through how successful our pages are in reaching different audience members who may not be aware of the devastating impact climate change and the ecological crisis could have on society.
Furthermore, when looking at the type of followers I have on Call Us Angels, it is even more apparent that I am only reaching a certain type of audience - mostly women in their 20s and 30s (Instagram, 2020). Although Call Us Angels wants to reach out to women and encourage them to make their own trash angel wings, the aim was to include a variety of women. Instagram is a relatively new social media site, first set up in 2010 (Blystone, 2020). Therefore, the majority of people on this site are younger. It was for this reason that I knew I needed to follow the advice of fellow angels and take my trash angel wings out of the container of Instagram (click here for more information). Although not solving for the echo-chamber being created on Instagram, by placing my trash angel wings into the public I could reach other women who may not use Instagram, informing and talking to them about the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis. Going forward, I will still be using Instagram as a base to connect to other angels, but I will also aim to do workshops and litter picking session in public in order to reach other local women who may not be a part of this echo-chamber.
'Although the energy needed for a single internet search or email is small, approximately 4.1 billion people, or 53.6% of the global population, now use the internet. Those scraps of energy, and the associated greenhouse gases emitted with each online activity, can add up.' - Sarah Griffiths, 2020
Throughout my time using Instagram for Call Us Angels, the amount of hours I spent using this social media site went up exponentially. Sometimes I would spend seven hours of my day on my Call Us Angels page. Although I was living this project (which I talk more about here), it wasn't necessary that I spent that amount of time on Instagram. After 141 days of posting daily vlogs and weekly videos on Instagram, I decided to give myself a month off. Not even a week into this month off and I am struggling. I keep checking my phone to see whether I have any Instagram notifications. I keep switching from my personal Instagram account to the Call Us Angels one, just to make sure no one has messaged me. I think I have become slightly addicted.
Addiction to social media is a relatively normal occurrence, causing Governments to question whether 'internet addiction could be classified as a disease' (Kiberd, 2019). The recent hit docufilm 'The Social Dilemma' on Netflix highlights the prevalence of social media addiction and even makes the connection to illegal drug addiction - 'only two organisations call their customers "users", illegal drugs and social media' (Orlowski, 2020). Baring this all in mind, has my choice in using Instagram as a platform for Call Us Angels been a healthy decision for my own mental health? Definitely not. Has it been a healthy choice to encourage other angels to use Instagram more to discuss their own thoughts about the ecological crisis? Perhaps not. However, we must remember that there is no other way I could have reached the amount of women I have and started up interesting conversations with them had I not used Instagram - or any type of social media for that matter.
Whilst researching Instagram, I was not only made aware of the addictive nature of social media sites, but I also realised that social media sites contribute to climate change and the ecological crisis. I'm not sure why I didn't know this. Maybe I just didn't want to admit to myself that Call Us Angels hasn't been able to be completely eco-friendly. Although posting a picture on Instagram has a relatively small carbon footprint, the sheer amount of users posting on the site means that the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere is adding up (Griffiths, 2020). Even as I write this, a data centre, run on non-renewable energy, is saving my blog and in doing so is releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Griffiths, 2020). I am contributing to climate change and the ecological crisis - the very thing that I have been protesting and informing angels about during Call Us Angels. This feels very hypocritical of me, and something that I need to work through in the future. How do I balance the need for Call Us Angels to start up conversations with other women around the world through Instagram, with the need to limit my own carbon footprint? Do I need to find other ways of building a community of angels? Do I need to stop using Instagram or should I just post less? In a covid-19 world, where connections with real people are limited, these virtual communities have become more necessary to keep on discussing issues of climate change and the ecological crisis. I admit that these are all important questions that I don't have the answer to. However, perhaps by making myself and others aware of the environmental damage social media is doing, we can be inventive and come up with better ways to connect and learn.
We can only hope.
I'd love to know your thoughts and feelings about using Instagram to share, discuss and learn about the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis, particularly as this social media site is so addictive and is releasing carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. These are complicated issues that I still need to work out going forward into the future of Call Us Angels. If you have any ideas of ways I can continue to connect with women from around the world without relying so heavily on social media, I'd love to hear from you! Make sure you get in touch by commenting or using the contact form below.
Bylstone, Dan. 'The Story of Instagram'. Investopedia, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/102615/story-instagram-rise-1-photo0sharing-app.asp, (Accessed: 2020).
Frier, Sarah. No Filter: the inside story of Instagram, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020.
Griffiths, Sarah. 'Why your internet habits are not as clean as you think'. Smart Guide to Culture, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200305-why-your-internet-habits-are-not-as-clean-as-you-think, (Accessed: 2020).
Instagram. 'Insights'. Call Us Angels page, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/call.us.angels/, (Accessed: 2020).
Kiberd, Roisin. 'Social media addiction is not natural or normal - but is it really a disease?'. The Guardian, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/19/social-media-facebook-addiction-not-natural-normal-disease, (Accessed: 2020).
Orlowski, Jeff. 'The Social Dilemma'. Netflix, 2020, https://www.netflix.com/watch/81254224?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C0%2C5e67f3dfd0117fb2077856c9004b59c70438f5c8%3A691816be367372e3de7d543842e9251a6f09a1db%2C5e67f3dfd0117fb2077856c9004b59c70438f5c8%3A691816be367372e3de7d543842e9251a6f09a1db%2C%2C, (Accessed: 2020).
Random. 'Does Instagram have a word limit on posts?'. Tech Junkie, 2019, https://social.techjunkie.com/does-instagram-have-a-word-limit-on-posts/, (Accessed: 2020).
99 Statistics. 'How many people use Instagram?', 99 Firms, N.D., https://99firms.com/blog/how-many-people-use-instagram/#gref, (Accessed: 2020).