Is Instagram more than just self-portraits and pictures of food?

Posted by Thomas Anderson

The wildly popular photo-sharing application Instagram is used by millions of people around the world. Nevertheless, the social media phenomenon is often dismissed as a trivial pastime.

Interestingly, a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, is now claiming that quite a lot of effort often goes into a picture before it is shared.

To be sure, the study investigated how visitors at the Gothenburg Museum of Natural History used their cellphones during a visit. Through ethnographic field studies the researchers examined how visitors documented and shared their experiences.

The study in itself is one of a kind. Since Instagram is a relatively new service, the body of research with in the area is still thin. Furthermore, the combination of Instragram and museums was previously unexplored.

"There are studies that have looked at how museum visitors use technology developed by the museums themselves, such as for example touchscreens or mobile applications," explained post-doc Thomas Hillman, one of the three researchers behind the study.

"But we are among the first to investigate how visitors use their own mobile technology in the museum environment."

When the researchers analyzed the data they had collected, they were able to determine that visitors often upload many pictures from the museum during their visit, and that many of these pictures are carefully planned and edited.

"There is a conception that Instagram is used to post mostly of self-portraits and pictures of food, which can be perceived as shallow, but our research shows that there is a lot effort behind many of the pictures," said PhD Student Beata Jungselius.

The study also indicates that smart phones have changed the way we share our experiences.

"We used to document places and events by taking pictures with cameras, which we would then print and share with our closest friends. Then cellphone with cameras with introduced, and as these have evolved, along with the breakthrough of Facebook and Instagram, our way of sharing our experiences has changed," added Associate Professor Alexandra Weilenmann.