'About Last Night', 'And Relax', 'Office For The Day': How Influencer Language Is Killing Instagram
Long before the single deckchair next to a sweep of swimming pool proclaiming 'Office for the day', or the snapshot of a drink held aloft with the caption 'About last night', or a group in front of a festival field titled 'squad goals' (with a few sunglass emojis for good measure), Instagram captions weren’t given much thought.
In the same way that the early Facebook statuses were little more than innocent expressions of something that had popped into its author's head, Instagram captions were but a thought bubble to the blurry photos above them: ‘Made this for lunch!’ perhaps, or a line as functional and uninspiring as ‘On holiday in France with Tom!’
'Influencers' have received a great deal of criticism since their sudden rise to prominence in the cultural conversation, for everything from promoting unhealthy body images (not to mention products) to instilling a generation with the lingering sense they’re not invited to the party going on around the corner. But perhaps the most infuriating aspect of their legacy is the cookie cutter captions that read like they were AI generated, a trend 'non influencers'—that's you, me and everyone you went to school with—suddenly find themselves following too.
Start to notice the creeping frequency of these phrases, and you won't be able to stop. 'Vitamin Sea' under a photograph of the beach. 'Wish I was still here' excusing one last holiday selfie, several days after someone's returned to their office job. 'Boy done good' next to a vase of limp tulips. 'Not a bad view' next to literally any good view.
'So this happened' next to an engagement ring held up before a perfectly moist eye, up a hill somewhere. 'I'll just leave this here' next to a scan of the first baby. 'And then there was four' when the second baby arrives.
"A ready-made template to title amber sunrises and flat-lays of tea and toast"
Just like other influencer-tested tricks—gaming algorithms by posting at high traffic times or concealing a cynical barrage of hashtags with a trail of dots - these empty phrases such have become ubiquitous to the point that all the amber sunrises and flat-lays of tea and toast - and indeed, announcements of what are supposedly major milestones in a person's life - feel suspiciously like #ads even when they're not.
As with any social network, there comes a point of over-saturation where the cool kids who were there first abandon ship, and all that’s left is photographs of your mum’s book club trip to Corfu and screenshots of half-marathon times from the guy in your Geography class.
It’s debatable whether Instagram is at that saturation point yet (as of June 2018 it had 1bn unique monthly users). But the increasingly homogenised captions feel like another warning sign the app is being eaten alive by its own cliches, and user fatigue is starting to set in.
Increasingly, copying the big shots in striving for more followers, more likes, more engagement seems like the only endgame of Instagram. Moving further away from the ‘instant camera’ which inspired the first half of the app’s portmanteau, and closer to everyone stockpiling holiday photos to share long after the sun has set, above a plinth bearing the same meaningless captions.
Who would've thought you’d long for the days of 'Made this for lunch!’?
Take me back.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.