Over the course of the final few weeks in class we completed reading a book entitled “The Breakup 2.0” by Ilana Gershon. The topic of discussion throughout this book was relationships and how people carry them out on social media. Social media in the book only referred to Facebook but it was written six years ago so the information is somewhat outdated and excludes discussion about new social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. In this post I will be looking at the role Instagram plays in relationships these days based on the six theoretical elements discussed in “The Breakup 2.0.” These items are Media Ideologies, Idioms of Practice, Structure of the Medium, Remediation, Second-order Information, and What is the public/What is made public. All of these theories can be seen in relationships on all types of social networks but some are more prominent than others (Gershon, 2010).
Before going into a lot of detail about each of these key elements, I will discuss a little bit about what Instagram is and how it affects people and relationships. Instagram is essentially a photo/video sharing app/website. It is primarily used by younger generations as 90% of all Instagram users are under the age of 35 years old (Smith, 2016). A fact that i found rather interesting was that of the 500 million monthly active users, 51% were male and 49% were female (Smith, 2016). I mentioned that it is a photo and video sharing form of social media but is primarily used for pictures. On this platform users can share pictures and videos that can be viewed by their followers and then liked, commented on, or shared by other users. Because this app is primarily used to share photos and videos, it does not really allow users to post long updates like they can on Facebook, but rather add captions to express what is happening in the post. Due to Instagram being a mobile app it allows users to download it to their phone so it can always be at their finger tips which adds to the convenience of using it. One of the main features that draws people in to the app is the ability to use filters to add different lighting and coloring effects to their photos in order to give them a more “professional” looking quality. You are also able to search for users and posts that my be similar to your posts or interests which helps connect to other users and create relationships (Helmrich, 2016).
Now that we’ve covered what Instagram is we can begin to look at how the app helps relationships to form, grow, and possibly end depending on certain situations. I had the pleasure of speaking to some peers to get their input on how relationships have formed for them through the use of this app and we can really see how all six of those theories apply to different situations. I was able to apply each of the six theories to the accounts of activity I received from talking to them about their experiences. First we will hear from Cynthia on Media Ideologies.
In Gershon’s “The Breakup 2.0” we saw how Facebook was the social media platform of choice for young people at that time. Now, if you were to ask anyone between the ages of 18 and 25, Facebook would merely be a way to keep in contact with family members and friends. They do not really rely so much on this platform as a means of “normal” communication. Media Ideologies can be defined as, “beliefs about how a medium communicates and structures communication” (Gershon, 2010). Among young people today, Instagram has become one of the most popular methods of communication due to its less than formal feel (Smith, 2016). When looking at Media Ideologies we have to consider two different types, formal and informal. Formal ideologies generally appear when talking to a colleague, teacher, or other individual on a professional level. We see informal more when speaking to a friend or family member when it doesn’t necessarily matter if every thing is worded perfectly. This brings us to Cynthia’s story. She recently met and interacted with a guy she did not even know.
“I found him one day while looking at different hashtags. Since I am into artistic work I like to browse through other people’s posts and share my appreciation and even find inspiration for my own work. One day I saw his pictures and thought they were a lot like mine so I liked some of his and he ended up commenting on mine. We flirted a little with jokes and song lyrics, which led him to direct message me where we eventually exchanged phone numbers and set up a date. In the end I decided he was too young for me but he was a very nice guy.”
The Media Ideologies that took place in Cynthia’s story were obviously of an informal nature. The interacted through short flirty comments to one another then decided to take it a step further. The basis for this conversation though was the fact that they had similar interests which set the stage for the ideologies to take place. Without this starting point there never would have been a conversation.
Idioms of Practice
According to Gershon, media ideologies aren’t created by people themselves but rather through Idioms of Practice. This phrase refers to the way people figure out and agree on appropriate ways to socially use different forms of technology (Gershon, 2010). Basically the way technology is used depends on the person or people involved. Different individuals who engage with one another may start out having different Idioms of Practice but as the relationship grows and they interact more they gain this understanding of how the other person operates. In “The Breakup 2.0” she uses the example that some students she interviewed used Facebook as a way to keep contact with a close group of friends, while others us it to add as many “friends” as they can in a sort of competitive manner. To discuss Idioms of Practice I spoke to Ashleigh. She told me about a guy she talked to for an amount of time whose Instagram idioms were very different from her own.
“I had known this guy for quite awhile and even had an interest in him at one point. He always seemed very nice and was easy to talk to. My mind changed however when he decided to go way back in my Instagram and like just about every selfie I had taken over the years, completely ignoring pictures that didn’t have me in them. It was odd because I’d never experienced someone going about getting my attention that way and it sort of freaked me out. After he liked all my pictures he started leaving comments that seemed very out of character for him. They were compliments but were very inappropriate considering we were just friends. The way I handled the situation was by laughing it off and joking back with him when I should have told him to stop but that’s just not how I’ve ever been, especially on social media.”
So obviously this guy did not get very far through the use of his Idioms of Practice. In his eyes he probably thought he was being flattering and cute but Ashleigh’s differing idioms clashed with his that she ended up wanting nothing to do with him. Instead of being rude and telling him off online, she chose to brush it off and go about her business. Granted, this could have made the guy think what he was doing was okay with her but that just goes to show how differing idioms of practice can end a relationship with a person before it even gets started.
Structure of the Medium
Structure of the Medium refers to the way the social media platform is laid out and how people use it when interacting in relationships. Some people may not be as comfortable with a certain form of technology versus another form. For individuals who started on Facebook and are trying to learn Instagram may have some trouble at first. I myself even had some issues when starting to use Instagram but I caught on eventually. Although the concept for the two platforms are similar, the feed layout and how to post is much different. For example there are no statuses on Instagram so if you want to express a mood or situation you have to post a picture or video. The only expression though will be through the caption or hashtags you attach to the picture. We see an example of this in Keri’s story.
“A few months ago I noticed a lot of notifications coming through my Instagram account from an ex-boyfriend. We had been together for a couple years so I just let it go at first thinking it was no big deal. What caught my eye was when I noticed him like and comment on a picture of me with the dog he and I had together from 3 years earlier. I was confused as to why he would like that until he commented on it asking me how to save it to his own page. At this point I didn’t want to start something in the comments with him so I text messaged him to ask what he was thinking. He said he just liked the picture a lot and wanted a copy of it but he didn’t know how to save it. I told him that wasn’t okay because we weren’t together and I had a new boyfriend by this time. I also told him not to put comments on my pictures like that and to just message me instead if he absolutely needed something but he didn’t know how to do that either.”
In Keri’s situation the ex-boyfriend did not really use Instagram often enough to know that you could directly message people so others didn’t see. He also wasn’t able to figure out how to save her picture which resulted in an embarrassing situation for her as well as possibly causing issues in her current relationship. When people are used to a form of social media we sometimes see situations like this occur.
In the book, Gershon refers to Remediation as, “How people’s media ideologies and uses of one medium are always connected to people’s media ideologies and uses of other older or newer media” (Gershon, 2010). This isn’t necessarily the same for everyone but we do see just about everyone use this theory in some way. One person in a certain relationship may be an active Twitter user while their partner or friend may primarily use Facebook. This can lead to a few different outcomes. Either one or both of the people in the relationship will learn to use and be more active on the other person’s chosen platform, or it can cause problems resulting in a negative impact on the relationship. Alex gave me a great example of what can happen when two people fail to communicate through the use of Remediation.
“I was an avid Twitter user and my girlfriend was always on Instagram. She asked me all the time why I wouldn’t use my account more (I had like 5 posts on there) and i told her I just didn’t really understand it. I asked her to get on Twitter and I’d show her how to use it but she always said she thought tweeting was stupid and pointless. She was a very attractive girl so every once in awhile I would scroll through her Instagram and see all the comments and likes from other guys and that bothered me because I get jealous. So I told her I had a problem with it and that she needed to get off Instagram because it made me uncomfortable seeing that. She wouldn’t give it up though so we eventually called it quits.”
Unfortunately for this story didn’t have a happy ending and Remediation was a big reason why. When two people are unable to get past differences because they are set in their ways, it can cause conflict and end up with a very negative result. I would hazard a guess that Alex’s girlfriend probably enjoyed the attention she was receiving on her posts on Instagram but he didn’t act like she really responded to any of it. Still it’s nice to be appreciated by a lot of people so I suppose no one can really blame her for not wanting to let go of her account. It was also somewhat unfair of him to ask that of her but she could have been more willing to try out Twitter. However he could also have been more willing to be more active on Instagram.
Second-order Information can be defined as “is not what is actually said but rather the background knowledge of the situation and expectations of communication that allows one to interpret the words” (Reagle, 2015). Looking at the concept of Instagram, Second-order Information is what this app really comes down to. This platform isn’t all about words and posting long statuses. Instead it’s about putting up a picture and letting the post tell the story. Granted, some pictures are hard to determine what the point or story behind it is supposed to be but it still allows other users to infer a backstory for themselves. The one issue that can sometimes be seen from this theory is that a lot of Instagram users use this idea to make their lives seem better and more exciting than they actually are. It can also make a person look like they care about certain things more than they do. This is because we don’t always see the whole picture. We see what is shown but don’t actually know what is happening outside the frame.
This picture shows exactly what I mean by outside the frame. The actual post makes this person look very artsy and the setting looks nice and clean. This is the inference that everyone who sees the post would gather. However in the image beside it we see what is actually going on. The room looks messy with clutter everywhere and there is even a cat on the bed. With the help of a nice clean looking Instagram filter, This person seems neat, organized, and somewhat artistic. The second-order information is the fact that we see this person in that way when in reality that doesn’t look like how they actually are.
What is the public/What is made public?
For this section of the post we need to break it down into two parts. The public and made public are two different things despite sounding similar. The public refers to a space where things just are. Anyone can see them and there really isn’t much control over what people see. What is made public is when you give permission for people to see certain things. Instagram has a setting which allows you to make your profile private that way only your followers can see what you post. To control this you can put in another setting that makes people request to follow you rather than just clicking the button to become your follower. Accepting this request is a form of made public as is setting your profile to public instead of private. If you choose not to add these settings, your profile automatically becomes part of the public where anyone can see it. Another option that is part of the public is if you go to the activity feed you can flip over from the activity on your profile and see the activity of your followers. This is a way to keep up with your friends but it can also cause problems. I myself personally have a story about this.
About a year ago after my current girlfriend and I started dating I received a text message from her asking what exactly it was that I was doing. I was confused as to what she was talking about so she repeated herself adding on Instagram to the end of the previous question. I sometimes have a habit of scrolling through my feed just liking all of my friends posts because, hey they’re my friends. I like to show support to them. It just so happened that at some point there were a bunch of pictures from a few different girls that popped up right in a row and without thinking I just kept scrolling and double tapping. Later that day my girlfriend happened to be scrolling through her activity feed and wen to the follower tab. She then noticed that I was liking all these pictures of different girls and I didn’t realize two things. The first thing was that I didn’t know she could see my activity. The second thing was I didn’t realize I had done anything wrong.
While this could probably fall under a couple different categories that I have been discussing I chose to place it here because who really thinks to look at that as a public space? Apparently my girlfriend. The thing is though that there is nothing I could do to keep her from seeing that and it caused a bit of a fight between us that we eventually worked through.
Overall I think that Gershon’s book “The Breakup 2.0” was helpful in my understanding of the role social media plays in all relationships rather than just romantic ones. The important thing to note here is that everyone is different and so are the ways they choose to use social media platforms. Instagram has its positives and negatives as do all the other forms of social media but we still need to be careful how we are using it. Technology is constantly changing as is the way people use it. So in a few years these platforms may be obsolete. Only time will tell, much like being in a relationship.