Some argue that inspiration comes from the new; the undiscovered. Confronting and exciting experiences spark our imaginations more easily than the recognisable.
Personal growth is driven by inspiration and the ability to utilise imagination. However, social media-based inspiration must be actively sought and carefully curated. If you are not engaged with what you are viewing, you will continue to cycle through the sameness of your past interests. This can then move beyond the reinforcement of personal values and begin to hammer you into a box. Nobody likes to be pigeon-holed. Nobody likes to fit a stereotype. But those of us feeling uninspired may well fit this description.
Our addiction to sharing on social networks has a myriad of implications for our social lives. While highlighting similarities between and within social circles can be beneficial, repetition can become a source of irritation. Think: that pre-trip, plane wing photo posted by everyone. While this photo might represent the sameness of your inner circle and wider culture, it can also be a representation of an important cultural norm.
A photo of plane wings shows apprehension and excitement; it’s hard not to imagine what’s left behind and all that’s in front. This is something shared – each of us experiences this same phenomenon. And regardless of every plane photo seeming identical, there is a reassurance of connectedness if one can appreciate the sentiment behind.
Photos have the power to romanticise our view of travel through identifying a symbolic understanding of shared experience. We like to share because we wish to engage our peers in a moment of cultural comraderie. Sometimes though, this does amount to showing off – but that’s OK too! Deliberate signposting of privilege is a part of privileged culture. It drives aspiration. This is a necessary – albeit often frustrating – part of social interaction. But engagement with what others do often provides the motivation to achieve such things yourself. Curiosity begets action. Visual evidence provides curiosity with the material it needs to create desire for this action.
You no longer have to visit a place to gain an understanding of it. This is the incredible thing about the internet and social media: anyone with access to either can stimulate their imagination and understand the world. Social media offers an opportunity to grow everyday by simply recognising what everyone else does.
Social media images are a useful tool in determining cultural trends. Trends don’t last forever and probably shouldn’t be strictly adhered to, but should definitely be noticed. Trends are representations of ideas, beliefs and values that begin to be widely adopted by a cultural group. Diffusion of a trend signifies a culturally important occurrence that has moved beyond the early adopters and is ready to be accessed by the mainstream. While all viewing the same images we can identify and achieve a sense of cultural belonging. But if this goes too far, can it have a negative effect on our perception of the world and ourselves?
Well, absolutely. Mostly when it reinforces levels of privilege, or prevents globalised learning. A lot has been written about the overabundance of certain types of photos on social media (plane wings, cocktail photos, and more recently the POV-legs-on-beach with sandy toes). But it isn’t all bad. If you take a step back, image sharing reveals more than narcissistic behavioural trends or the desire to create an echo chamber in support of our own values. Yes, a huge part of what is revealed highlights privilege by accentuating particular parts of our lifestyles. Even if you follow a thousand Instagrammers, there is still a chance that you have created a personal echo chamber. This can be greatly inspiring, but it can also fuel a negative cultural experience.
The least of these experiences would be boredom; the worst might include affirmations of sexist or racist mindsets. For most people, it probably rests somewhere in between. So few people take the time to move beyond recycling what others in their inner network have already shared. Its understandable: time and effort are valuable commodities; engagement is an even rarer quality. But those who commit to seeking out new experiences and balancing these with their own culture will be rewarded by evolving their perceptions and driving personal growth.
It is easy to slip into a rut. Creating an online echo chamber can at first be exciting and affirming, as our values and beliefs are confirmed by people we have never met, from places we dream of visiting. This can quickly become stale however, if your online preferences never evolve. Just as in real life, one grows through each new achievement and constantly learns and changes. One must also actively engage with their online curation of media to ensure a valuable experience.