“The medium is the message,” a phrase popularized by Marshall McLuhan in 1964, is often touted as a central idea of modern media. However, with the advent of online and social media in more recent years, can we really say that this statement holds true today? Is social media actually a result not only of content, but of medium or platform itself? To find answers to my question, I decided to do further investigation into the world of social media. I centralized my research on what the Pew Research Center found was the fastest growing social media–Instagram.
Instagram is a social media platform unlike any other. Robinson Meyer from the Atlantic describes it as creating “a space for intimacy and gratitude, despite being a broadcast medium.” It accomplishes this in a way that sets the social media “rules” aside, and it creates new ones. Unlike most social media platforms, there is a noticeable lack of advertising. Most platforms are constantly being bombarded with ads. Because users tend to find advertising as a source of irritation, many ads are now made to look like regular posts made by individuals. Instagram takes a different approach–no ads. There are plenty of companies on Instagram, but you have to search and follow them to see the advertisements. You are not forced to scroll past their ads when you wish to see other posts. Using this type of medium, Instagram sends a direct message–we care about your user experience.
Instagram continues to differentiate itself from the competition by using alternative mediums for the message. Instead of concentrating on the sharing of written word (which is most common with Facebook and Twitter for example), the creators behind Instagram decided to focus on something arguable more primal–the image. Images speak to use in a way that words cannot. Remember the old adage of, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? Well, it’s true. According to Journal of Psychology and the “Picture Superiority Effect,” we recall up to 50% more of pictures than we do of spoken or written word. ( Video Explanation ) As humans, we are programed to be more responsive to images. Instagram has latched on to that very concept. Because they do not focus on the written word, but rather, they focus on images–they garner our attention. There is no need to have words as the primary message. Whether it is to show you travel photos or share a photo of your coffee, it does not matter. The medium of imagery sends the message clearly without words–this is what I enjoy.
Because Instagram is image based, that’s not to say that words have no place in Instagram. On the contrary, they are more like supporting actors to the star medium–the image. The can aid in describing the image or can even help in finding new viewership for the image itself through the use of hashtags. The young seemed to have particularly latched on to this. Business Insider, Caroline Moss, describes her experience of using hashtags like a teenager. She said, “you might see a spike in the number of likes you get compared to posting the same photo with no hashtags. Which makes sense, because hashtags make a photo searchable.” Thus, hashtags and words on Instagram are not the message themselves, but they become a means to help you discover the message.
Through this, we can conclude that in the case of Instagram, the medium truly is the message. The images of Instagram are themselves the message, and it makes for a refreshing change for the crazy, advertisement ridden and word driven world of social media.