It’s pretty rare for anyone in our society to go more than a day without checking their social media profiles these days. For most young people, it’s been part of their lives for as long as they can remember. But — shock horror — this wasn’t always the case, so what exactly happened? How did we go from a life offline to a life largely dominated by the internet?
It’s fair to say that Instagram first started gaining mass popularity around 2013. With this in mind, we thought we’d do a deep dive into the past decade, looking at how exactly social media has evolved and why it’s adapted in such a way.
To begin, let’s cast our minds back. The acceleration of internet culture in 2013 can be summarised pretty accurately by the fact that Oxford Dictionaries named ‘selfie’ as their official word of the year. It was the age of incredibly heavy filters, pictures of Starbucks cups and captions with one too many #random hashtags. Users were still finding their feet with sharing their everyday life in a visual format to a million strangers online, which inevitably meant there was a bit of an awkward stage.
Of course, it would be impossible to talk about social media in the early 2010s without referring to every millennial/older Gen Z teenager’s favourite place on the internet — Tumblr. As a sort of microblogging/social media hybrid, Tumblr was where all the angsty teens fled to build an online aesthetic/persona, ask anonymous questions and unleash all their inner pretentiousness. Equal parts unifying and toxic, it created a huge sense of community for various “fandom”s while also leading to the glorifying and romanticising of certain mental illnesses.
The platform has waned significantly in popularity since around 2015 (though has recently seen somewhat of a nostalgic resurgence), due in part to a number of technical issues and unpopular updates. Others would argue, however, that the rise of apps like Vine, and eventually TikTok, are the ultimate cause of Tumblr’s downfall.
The prevalence of short-form video content is probably one of the biggest differences between today’s social media and that of ten years ago. We’ve all witnessed the rapid growth of TikTok, formerly Musical.ly, which took what Vine offered and somehow managed to surpass its success without any of the financial issues. It has since created a haven for marketers, brands, artists of pretty much any niche and the general public, with its algorithm making ‘going viral’ a much more achievable goal than on other platforms. With Instagram’s launch of IGTV in 2018 and eventually Reels in 2020, it became pretty clear that video content is the future the internet was steering towards, especially when other platforms, like YouTube, shortly followed in their footsteps.
Another shift we’ve seen is in the “authenticity” of popular online content, which has arguably done a full 360 circle since 2013. After the more candid, photo-heavy feeds of the early 2010s, we saw a shift to much more curated content in the latter half of the decade, as users began to tailor their Instagram grids to suit a certain aesthetic while using the newly introduced Stories (poached from Snapchat) to upload more of the day-to-day snaps. Recently, however, we’ve seen many social media users return to a more natural approach, opting for authenticity over perfection with “photo dumps” and the rise of BeReal.
Of course, this is all just skimming the surface of the changes social media has undergone over the past 10 years. We haven’t even attempted to cover Twitter, the evolution of which would require several separate blogs in itself, from its relevance in politics to its recent acquisition by Elon Musk. There are thousands of other points to cover when it comes to this topic, so let us know if you’d like a part two to cover more ground.
To fully capture the essence of social’s transformation, we thought we’d finish by doing some side-by-side comparisons between the Trufflers’ Instagram feeds back in the day versus presently. Try not to cringe too much, and enjoy.