Oh, Instagram. You fill us with major vacation FOMO and inspire some serious travel YOLO. But at what cost?
The rise of the lifestyle influencer
With the increased accessibility of technology and the Snapchat-it-all era that followed came forth the influencer. Lifestyle and travel influencing is now a straight-up career choice.
It’s 2019, people! You no longer need your own magazine and a 4pm timeslot on a nationally syndicated channel to make a living off skillfully shilling your tips and product recs for living your best life. (Here’s looking at you, pre-OWN Oprah.)
Social media recounts the story of the glossy, glamorous life of an influencer. But it’s not all comped hotel stays and free hair vitamins.
IG inspiration and its unintended ethical consequences
From brand new psychological disorders to the destruction of fields full of beloved flowers, the pics-or-it-didn’t-happen mentality is blamed for all sorts of new problems that didn’t exist just a few decades ago.
The good news: We are collectively aware that this is a massive problem with far-reaching ethical, social, and environmental consequences.
The bad news: It’s still a problem.
We can’t remove the horror of the 2019 Joshua Tree situation from history, but we can band together to foster an ethical and more sustainable ecosystem for influence-objective social media sharing. Here’s how:
So you’re an (aspiring) influencer! How (and why) to Instagram responsibly
Are you looking to be a more responsible purveyor of Instagrammable eye candy? There’s one notoriously neglected (but outrageously simple) rule to follow to be an ethical social media content creator.
Make this maxim your mantra whenever you’re out there creating content for your audience.
Need more? Here you go:
Aim to set a better, more ethical, and sustainable example.
Treat the destinations you experience with a deference that speaks to its impermanence and importance. Be kind to the people you encounter, and for the love of all that is good, compensate them fairly.
Embrace and adapt to cultural differences
Oh so you’re used to your fancy Western-style toilet, are you, Mr/s Fancy-pants? Not so thrilled at covering up your shoulders at this sacred religious site?
Tough. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. As a traveler, you have the exceptional privilege of experiencing a totally new culture, and one that is not your own. Cherish this chance, and take every new adventure as an opportunity to foster a deeper and more meaningful sense of empathy and humility.
Take the opportunity to respect that yours is not the only culture in this world. As Kendrick Lamar said, “Sit down. Be humble.“
Leave No Trace
Do you even hike, bro?
Y’all don’t live under a rock (I hope), so I’m sure you’ve heard this before: “Take nothing but pictures.” Chances are, your Aunt Janet’s neverending stream of normcore memes has featured this quote at some point.
This super-shareable saying holds deep meaning within the outdoor community, but to be clear, this is less about encouraging you to take photos than it is about not leaving a gosh-darn mess behind.
LNT absolutely has applications beyond explicitly active and outdoor activities. Leave No Trace means more than not littering (though that’s obviously a massive part of it, so remember to pick up one or more pieces of trash when you can).
Side note: stop making pointless rock piles, especially in and around bodies of water. They’re not good for the wildlife and have the potential to be seriously confusing to hikers on the lookout for a legit trail marker.
What better way to respect a place and its people than to help preserve its landmarks, both natural and handmade?
Finally, be honest
Be real with your audience. That carefully curated Instagram feed that you’re building might be reflective of reality. Or maybe it’s not. Hey, fantasy sells. But when you deliberately hide the truth from your trusting fans? Then it’s no longer an exercise in creativity. Those are just pretty little photographic lies.
Your precisely aligned and color-corrected grid might be a little (or perhaps a lot) edited. Is it honest, though? Your perfectly polished aesthetic can and should coexist with honesty — these are not mutually exclusive concepts.
I urge you, nay, I implore you to, every so often, take a break from that trending hashtag generator, and chill out with the Facetune, just a little.
Add a little humanity to your content and speak to your audience the way you’d talk to your very best friend (or frenemy, IDK what your relationships are like).
I promise you that you can absolutely sell whatever dream you’re promoting with pretty pictures and compelling captions with truth and honesty and without resorting to misleading snake oil sales tactics.
If you’re reading this, you have the extraordinary privilege of being able to create content and connect with an audience, and with that, you have the potential to authentically inspire.
Say Yes to Ethically Responsible Social Media and Content Creation
This isn’t your standard call to leave your camera at home. Photography and social media are very powerful tools with solid anthropological benefits. That we use this technology to connect with others and document our own personal histories? That’s a sweet bonus.
So go forth and create— just do it ethically, responsibly, and with an awareness of your impact.
Heads up! This post is syndicated from my personal blog, Aspire to Wander. You can read the original here: The Ethical Impact of an Instagrammable Culture. You can also give it a clap on Medium, here.
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