The problem with the phrase, "Instagram-worthy"
I have a problem with the phrase "Instagram-worthy". And no, I'm not a millennial-hater who has a stick up my butt, nor do I abhor social media and Instagram. In fact, I upload a new image every other day, paired with a caption that's either useful or opinionated on my work account, or tight-lipped and esoteric in my private edition. What I personally don't agree with is when things are recommended as "Instagram-worthy" in the first line of praise. I have a bone to pick with this phrase, and here's why.
The stories in our guide for digital millennials are rooted in one issue: What if the Internet died? How will we make friends, date around, fix our homes or rentals and get style and beauty inspiration during an unwelcome Internet detox? The yearning for a world where things aren't rated for being "Instagrammable" is a call for returning to credibility — when things are recommended not just by how it'll fit into the four corners of an upload.
A Google search on "Instagram-worthy" sees stories that rave on "Singapore's most Instagram-worthy attractions" and "20 Stunning Cafés in Singapore Worthy of Your Instagram Feed". While some of these articles do delve into the actual menu, the quality of produce or the general facilities in these locations, the choice that content creators make in labeling recommendations with Instagram-worthiness as their main anchor tells a lot about what they think readers hold dear — a response to what we think is important. Whatever we consume just has to look perfect for our Instagram feed. It has to look the part for friends and strangers who subscribe to what we produce. Then comes the instant gratification from every double-tap and comment.
A semi-satirical story on Vogue defines an Instagram-worthy upload to be "anything beautiful, awesome, hilarious, or amazing that evokes emotions including but not limited to: laughter, appreciation, jealousy, inspiration." When you order a flat white from your favourite café, do you ensure that it'll make your followers jealous? No. You genuinely like the barista who makes small talk — that for once, isn't painful — and you like how the coffee tastes. When you think of a restaurant to catch up with friends you haven't seen in ages, you consider everyone's budget, dietary restrictions and location preferences. You don't care if its walls are washed with millennial pink, do you?
Sure, we all look for the whole package, and there's nothing wrong with that. For instance, Sketch London's popular pink hues are as impressive as its high tea menu, but I'd sooner trust a story that leads with "London's best high tea restaurants", rather than "London's Instagrammable high teas". But that's just me, and I'd like to think I'm not alone in this.
A week ago, National University of Singapore (NUS) — one of Singapore's top ranking tertiary institutions — received flak on its NUS Office of Admissions page. In a bid to make the school "#mychoiceNUS" for prospective students, the office uploaded three images of students posing by locations in the school they called "the most Instagram-worthy spaces of NUS". A number of alumni members who reacted to the post were outraged by that shallow move, sharing that they never chose NUS based on how Instagram-worthy it was. Instead of showing any facilities or equipment within the campus, their strategy to appeal to the next generation was to show off their concrete brick red and grey walls, useful backdrops for posting "OOTDs".
I'm not one to impose a ban on the phrase altogether. But as a trusted friend, a content creator or a responsible resource, it holds more depth when you rave about how a place or product touches your multi-sensory being rather than just how it'll look on Instagram.
Read the digital millennial's guide on how to survive without the Internet.