#InstaTwitYourFace: Social media’s increasingly rampant role in local youth culture
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Whether the inundation of social networking thrills you, or has you building a bunker in your backyard and filling it with provisions, how we connect has changed dramatically in recent years. Long gone are the days of waiting for the six o’clock news to learn of the day’s events.
Life’s moments, both great and mundane, are transmitted as they transpire. Instant access to everything all the time is the new normal. This progress has allowed a river of art, music, oddity, and information to flow through our lives endlessly, without censor, and increasingly without the use of words.
New vehicles for social interfacing embody this truth absolutely. Photo and video sharing applications like Vine, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram offer unending access to the lives of users all over the planet. Language often is not a barrier, and neither is accreditation.
A byproduct of this technology and its speed-of-light connectivity is yet another evolution of how we interact, digitally and verbally. What was once geek-speak has become part of the general lexicon.
The hashtag, for example, coined by Twitter as a way to unite all things of a certain keyword or phrase by preceding it with the “#” symbol, has taken on a life of its own. It has changed the way we organize and study information the world over. Hashtag a photo, status update or Tweet, and they are aggregated with others of its kind in the “cloud” that is the Internet. Type #jacksonhole into any search bar to see nearly every photo taken here, every word written about this place, and all things related.
New terms, most of them acronyms, are being created constantly to explain what we are doing and how we choose to identify ourselves. We #tbt (share old photos, a.k.a. throwback Thursday), we regram (post someone else’s photo on our page), we troll (hurl insults digitally in order to insight a verbal battle with a stranger) and our Internet locations are preceded by the [email protected] symbol. When we feel something strongly, we cry “fml” or we “lol.” In this day and age, who has the time to speak in full sentences?
With all great advances in society, there are benefits and shortcomings. Instagram, Twitter, and their older brother Facebook have created a virtual world where nothing is private and boundaries, personal or otherwise, have no authority at all. This kind of freedom nurtures everything, both wondrous and vile. From these fertile grounds are growing fledgling artists, scene makers, and trendsetters.
In many cases, such as with Jackson Hole High School artist Oliver Hollis and his compatriots, traditional methods of photography are being skipped entirely. With nothing but a camera phone, these teenagers craft images so heartbreakingly beautiful that they belong not in a four-inch screen but on a gallery wall. Using their iphone cameras, Oliver, aka @revilo, and his friends, @fhammz and @jacksontsisi, spend countless hours creating the perfect “grams.”
One look into these Instagram accounts explains why the world has taken notice of what kids are doing these days. On a recent trip through Yellowstone, Instagram’s artistic director, Chris Connelly, reached out to Oliver with hopes of meeting the kid from Jackson that has garnered a massive following based solely on his captivating images.
Being noticed in this world is no small thing, especially when 130 million people subscribe to Instagram. And taking good photos is hardly enough in this arena; images need to be fresh, expertly captured, and, most importantly, liked. How many people see and like what you post is how you spread your ideas. This new frontier of connection does more than just further an art form; it redefines what it is capable of and ultimately where it can take the artists themselves.
Jackson Hole is home to a handful of Instagram heavy hitters. Young artists like Hollis and local sport luminaries Travis Rice, Rob Kingwill, Jon Rodosky and Jimmy Chin, (a.k.a. @travisrice, @avalon7, @rodophoto, and @jimmy_chin) are collectively followed by tens of thousands of people. They are skillfully utilizing this medium as a way to share their existence with fans, promote their brands, and shape how the rest of the world views photography and its infinite possibilities.
In 2012, Instagram founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom sold their photo-sharing program to Facebook for $1 billion in cash and stocks. What was once a quirky little app that allowed the most camera-illiterate of users to craft clever photos is now a social networking giant that is on the radar of all major markets. With the addition of video to an increasingly versatile application, Instagram is a mainline into the minds of today’s consumers.
Businesses have keyed in on how much time users are spending scrolling through other people’s lives. Like Facebook status updates and Twitter rants, Instagram photos express opinions, extra-curricular activities, likes and dislikes. A culture is emerging that feels compelled to keep the whole world up to speed on how they are feeling. Business owners are paying attention and using this data to draw customers. @jacksonholemtnrst (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) posts impressive local photos year-round, currently drawing 11,000 users from all over the world. New generations of travelers are getting an up-close-and-personal window into Jackson Hole, then booking tickets to see it in person.
On a local level, area businesses have used Instagram to sweeten the pot with a creative array of incentives. Campaigns have ranged from offering discounts to bragging rights. Within this medium the marketing possibilities are without limit. Post a photo of your bike parked at Bin 22 as part of its #biketobin22 campaign and get discounts on wine. Tag yourself doing something rad at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and you may see your photo along side those of your heroes. Snap a picture of friends stuffing Pinky G’s pizza into their faces and get your name on the daily slice. And with brand new video and imbedding capabilities, advertisers will have constant visual interaction with consumers all over the world.
While interviewing Hollis, I realized that we are all drawn to social networking for the same reasons. “Connection, to influence, to be influenced, and ultimately, to be liked,” Hollis explained, echoing the sentiment of every teenager that I spoke with.
Gideon Le Gros, a 16-year-old Jackson resident, said he checks his feed many times daily and admits it takes up a ridiculous amount of time. It is how his friends keep up with each other’s daily lives. He was quick to tell me that he doesn’t take it that seriously and that it can be what ever you want it to be.
However, one look around and it appears the majority of people today have a phone glued to their hand. It is a rare thing to see a family at the dinner table without a zoned-out kid staring into that four-inch screen. With all of the wonderful leaps of technology has come an erosion of etiquette and social grace. We have the ability to connect with people all over the world, yet people are more separate than ever before.
When I asked Jackson teenager Sam Winship how he felt about social media, his response was typical. “It will take your life over if you let it, but it’s not real, and you have to control it or it will control you,” he said.
The young mind is being shaped by this era of insta-everything and while it clearly has opened up the artistic and social landscape, a limit should be applied to what kids are exposed to at such young ages. It’s hard not to yearn for the time when every face you saw wasn’t lit up by that haunting blue phone screen.
Where is this dual phenomenon of both hyper-online-connectivity and profound personal disconnection going? Many people like Hollis are using social media to strike out into the world and connect with like-minded artists. There is a wellspring of good to be found in cyberspace and it is clear that many of our youths are tapping in.
However, like anything new and exciting, there is an addictive component. The next big drug isn’t one that you buy on a street corner. This distraction lives in your pocket, on your desk, and in the palm of your hand. Whether it enhances our connectivity or drives us further into our minds is the challenge of the next generation.