Before We Began
The primary reason that I chose Instagram as the media platform I’m exploring is that my kids wanted to try it. In this blog, I explain how I went about exploring this medium and then how my kids did. Both said they were “excited”, although Frank also said he was “nervous” and Jackie expressed concern about sharing personal information (something I expect is a result of her parents’ pounding that cautionary message into her head). I don’t really know much about Instagram other than that is picture sharing. I am not by nature someone that shares a lot of what is going on in my life with people beyond my immediate social circle, so there is some question in my mind about how practical it is to open an account and how much I will use it. Really, I know nothing beyond that. I don’t really know how Instagram works, whether people check into my account to see my pictures or whether I post them like Facebook or send them out like on Twitter. I have used other social media but not a lot. I am notoriously bad at posting on Facebook and I use Twitter mostly because of school, although I have posted more in recent weeks as I find articles that I think are relevant to what we discuss in class. I guess it says something about my level of familiarity with social media that it even enters my mind to use it. I will say from the start that my children’s impression of Instagram was as vague as mine but they know classmates that use it. I don’t know anyone that uses it. They were both excited to learn about it. My feelings are less excited and more curious, although that may just be the stick-in-the-mud adult that I’ve turned out to be.
As I actually went through the steps of getting on Instagram, my first primary decision was what picture to use for my profile. I opted for a picture of a shadow that I had saved on my computer. Why? I think for two reasons – one, because I like the sense of mystery and incompleteness that it denotes and two, because I am still nervous about putting my picture out there. I have some cute pictures of my mom & I, my sister & I and my son & I that I could have used, but I honestly wasn’t comfortable putting any of their pictures online. Doesn’t help that when I had second thoughts, I went to edit my profile and don’t see an option to change the picture. So I’ll keep it the way it is for now. On the main page, all of the people that are “suggested” that I follow are pop stars or media stars like Ariana Grande, and three (3!) different Kardashian/Jenners (out of a total of 10 suggestions). Thanks Instagram, but I don’t want to follow any of these people. I wonder about my kids though – did they follow any of them? And damn, there’s a lot of skin in these pictures. Kim Kardashian’s pictures are basically her boobs and her butt – and they look like they were all taken by a professional photographer to maximize the lighting. So I guess I have to search for someone to follow. I don’t know where to begin. I finally opted to look for the band, Above the Moon, which is my cousin’s band and who I saw last night at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. I figure my cousin is usually on top of social media promotions and I was right – I found them. I note that many of the pictures are also on their Facebook page – are they basically interchangeable? One thing I noticed when searching is that the names are really small and its hard to distinguish one result from another through the super tiny pictures. I tried Ray Bradbury because I was just reading about him and I found a number of Instagram accounts (?) with his name in them. I can’t tell if any of them are officially from his estate or anything (maybe picking a dead guy was a bad idea). But I did notice that when you click a picture, it has options to follow that person – so I can see how you would start in one place and be carried through a search that could result in you following a number of different people along the way. I tried searching for Axl Rose and, again, I didn’t know if there were any official accounts. I did run across one labeled Fan Page and one labeled Axl Rose Photography. In Googling, I found out that up until December of 2014, there was no way to determine whether an account was official or fake. Then they introduced little “verified badges” or checkmarks to make it clear. I searched “Prince” to see if I could find his and I did. One thing I noticed in playing music on Prince’s Instagram account is that if I open another window in the same browser, the music stops. Glitch! Wow – I just went back to my profile and I already have someone following me. I’ve only had an account for 20 minutes! And I don’t have any posts!
Oh wait – ha ha – of course no one is following me. It is +I+ who is following someone else – my cousin’s band. Guess I’m still getting the hang of this, although I suppose I should have known that one. I almost went back and erased what I just wrote, but in the interest of expressing the full digital media adventure, I left it in.
Speaking of which, it is not immediately obvious to me how to upload photos. After scouting around, I realize I have to click on my profile photo and it gives me an option to change the picture or upload new ones. That is odd. That can’t be the only way to upload pictures, can it? OK, no it must not be. That’s just for changing profile photos. Oh – now I see. I need to download an app to get it working.
9:09pm – I’m not thrilled with the way this site is set up. None of the little icons are labeled and they don’t even label themselves when you hold the cursor over it. Also, isn’t it ridiculous that I have to download an app to post pictures? I’m sitting at my computer and have pictures I want to post on the computer. Why can’t I just post them from here? It seems an unnecessary step to force you to download the app (and as you will see shortly, this is what derailed my son in his attempt to set this up). Now my computer is telling me that ITunes was downloaded improperly and I have to redo it. This is getting aggravating.
9:31pm – After 10 minutes and a bit of panicking over the possible loss of hundreds of songs stored on my old version of ITunes, a new version was installed and all the songs were still there and I managed to get the Instagram app.
9:42pm – One problem, I have no idea how to get it to work now. It’s downloaded – I see it on my screen, but when I click on it, nothing happens. I am having a ton of trouble with this and after working on it for a half hour, trying to go back and reload the App, I am giving up for the night.
9:17am – OK – brand new day and I’ve decided to bag the idea of doing this online and instead, downloaded the app on my phone. It took 5 seconds to download it and once that was done, it was very easy to access the pictures on my phone, choose one, throw a filter on it and share it.
Just as I did, my son Frank had a lot of problems. However, his difficulties stemmed from more from an overall unfamiliarity with how we navigate online spaces. In the end, he spent 40 minutes trying to figure out how to build an account and couldn’t do it ultimately without input. (My wife was filming him and we both agreed that neither of us wouldn’t give him any help unless absolutely necessary). He was initially excited because, as he told me, he had “never had a social media before”. He went right to the instructions on the Instagram webpage. He got derailed, however, and ended up on a page about the app and din’t know how to download it (he was on the wrong page). He used Google repeatedly to try to figure out how to do things and he ended up going down a couple of rabbit holes (both regarding the app, regarding signing up and then later regarding naming a file which he felt was necessary to get an account photo loaded up for the site. The context of the video I added below is that at this point, he has figured out that he can’t load Instagram via instructions for the app (which dont help anyway). He has instead figured out how to create an account on the computer, but does not know how to upload a picture. He is scouting around in the files, getting derailed on how to name a file, etc. Here is my son basically coming to the end of his rope.
In the end, Frank was near tears at the end of this process (or I should say the point at which he gave up). This was not a friendly process and for some of the same reasons I cited above (icons not being labeled and confusing directions between using the app and uploading photos via the computer for example), Frank was disappointed and, at present, is no longer enthused about using Instagram.
My daughter Jacqueline is not having anywhere near the same kinds of problems. While Frank struggled for nearly an hour, Jackie was able to sign up for Instagram in about five minutes and had no problem uploading a picture, actually deleting and picking a new one three times before she found the one she wanted. For Frank, all the excitement he felt in the beginning of the adventure seemed to boil away into frustration. For Jackie, the excitement was still there when she finished. Check it out. In watching the videos of Jackie’s experience, I will repeat again that I was uncomfortable with the nature of some of the photos that come up right away as part of the people that are offered for her to follow. Could Instagram ask the age of the user and then tailor the options for that age group? Or does that occur through some sort of algorithm that scrutinizes the people she follows? By the way, Jackie has succeeded in her goal and already has 11 followers!! (She is following one person – her friend Lacey).
I went in to this experience, expecting it to be simple and straightforward. In fact, before I began, I was almost rooting for one of my children to have difficulty signing up because I figured there was a fairly good chance that all three of us would sail through the process and there would be very little to write about. I was very wrong. I was surprised that the directions seemed less than straightforward, that there were limits on how you can upload photos and that the site itself was so unfriendly to users. In fact, it seemed more engineered for aesthetics, making sure that the icons were small and unlabeled perhaps to look “clean” while the Instagram photos of the people they were pitching (like Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian) were centered and large to make sure they made up the heart of the home page. I think that someone trying to set this up needs some advanced understanding of how computers and social media works. A newbie like Frank was clearly confused and frustrated and even I had to abandon my first plan of how to use Instagram and go to plan B, downloading the app on my phone. Only Jackie seemed not to have problems, although she has not uploaded any photos that I know of outside of her own profile picture. I found this form of social media to be frustrating. To me, the process of sharing photos is more effective on Facebook or even Twitter (or Vine) and I would rather use something like Facebook to look at friends’ photos and Google or TMZ if I want to see pictures of celebrities. I think part of the original attraction to this site was the idea of more intimacy – that the other people or celebrities are sharing something more personal by taking the pictures themselves – and I will say that I found some of that, for instance, looking at Prince’s Instagram (which offered some sound clips as well). But overall, they seemed like glorified publicity photos (for celebrities) and added very little value above and beyond pictures available on other forms of social media. It was just a lot bigger pain in the butt.