Everyone on Instagram is living the same life.
If it seems when you scroll through your feed that everything looks similar, that’s probably because it is. That artfully constructed shot of your latté and avocado toast brunch? The shot of your feet dangling over the edge of a waterfall? You in the back of a canoe?
It’s been done before. To death.
Few Instagram accounts make that more clear than @insta_repeat, which collects and displays groups of near-identically framed photos from across the photo-sharing social network. And the account’s 86 posts (so far) range from what seem easily replicable, like photos of people, wearing hats, looking away from the camera and out into the distance:
…or photos of phones taking photos:
…to the slightly more impressive, like images of people standing atop a mountain:
…or standing in dramatic cave openings:
Humans are creatures of habit. Just look at how we all act whenever we’re near a tourist spot. And it’s no great revelation to discover that humanity’s lack of creativity has extended from the physical world to the digital.
But how we portray our experiences today is exacerbating that sameness. In the past, if you went on a trip to somewhere far from home, you’d probably just snap a few photos to look at later. At most, you’d make a slideshow if you wanted to be really excessive. But now that we’re able to document every aspect of our lives, in real time, we, apparently, are doing things solely “for the ‘gram,” and it’s scrubbing much experience of originality.
People make livings off of their Instagram accounts. We call these people “influencers,” although it’s not clear what influence they actually have on the course of humanity. They post aspirational photos of their amazing lives, their wonderful vacations, their gorgeous homes, replete with #love, #instagood, #mood, #travel, and various other indications that their lives fit neatly into indexable search terms. @insta_repeat is taking on one sub-genre of these influencer-style accounts: the “adventurer.”
“I live in Alaska constantly [sic] see imagery pop up around me from ‘adventurers’ and ‘explorers’ from around the world on Instagram,” the creator behind the account recently told the Photo Shelter blog. “There is a lot of mimicry everywhere in media, not just on Instagram. A purpose of Insta_Repeat is to critique originality in media creation through the lens (pun intended) of this one ‘genre’ of Instagram photography accounts.”
The creator of Insta_Repeat is a 27-year-old filmmaker and artist, who wants to remain anonymous. ”I’m not trying to be the arbiter of what photos have value and what don’t. I am just making observations about the homogeneous content that is popular on Instagram,” she told Quartz over email. She says she is baffled by how many shots there are of humans in canoes and atop SUVs—but does see the positives in the repetitive nature of Instagram. “I also think there’s an incredible amount of value in emulation both when someone is learning and continuing their craft,” she says. “Improving upon and building upon what has been done…is an important part the evolution of art.”
The internet has brought the world closer together, while also making it easy for anyone to mimic or parrot the styles of anyone else. Every city in the world now has areas that look like Brooklyn, and businesses are designing their products and spaces specifically to be Instagrammed. Publications make lists of food designed to be photographed (eating appears optional) and of art made for people to take a #selfie in front of.
“What gets likes gets created, and viewers will like what is familiar,” @insta_repeat’s creator says. “So more of the same is created. New art and boundary-pushing imagery isn’t comfortable and isn’t as easily digestible on a quick scroll by and thus doesn’t seem to be created as much. It’s like the content is part of a self-feeding loop.”
So it’s not really surprising that all our photos look the same. But perhaps, sometimes, just enjoy wherever you are. Put the phone down. Your friends and followers don’t have to know.