When Instagram was first created, there was an innocence to it. When I was in sixth grade, my friends posted whatever they wanted, whether that was pictures of their dogs or their backyards filled with flowers. The freshness of the app and the curiosity of its users made it acceptable to post whatever you were up to, comment on everyone and anyone’s posts, and not care about how well a post matched your feed or how people would judge the things you loved.
Then, the app exploded. It replaced Facebook as the defining app of the Gen–Z generation (and beyond). Instagram became where we caught up with friends, family, celebrities, and our favorite brands. We received news immediately from Instagram rather than sitting on the couch every night and watching anchors tell us through our TVs.
The app became so well–used that users began to judge each other based on their posts. A selection of photos suddenly determined how we were seen to people we knew and didn’t know alike. Soon, we all began facing the pressure of paying attention to details in our posts.
A caption couldn’t be too unique, a photo couldn’t show too much or too little vulnerability, and a post couldn’t be too basic. An Instagram post couldn’t feature a single imperfection because you had to make a good first impression for anyone who saw you. The app lost its carefree identity and adopted one far more toxic.
Then, Instagram added the “carousel” feature in 2017. This feature allowed users to add ten photos in a single Instagram post. Initially, the carousel feature was used superficially; users would just post slightly different versions of the cover photo.
Then, the “photo dump” trend entered the scene; it was a chance to revive the creativity and lightheartedness from the Instagram of the past. People post a variety of unrelated images, some purposefully funny or blurry to show the reality of a given moment. The trend doesn’t have any restrictions; photos can be of you and your friends, pretty scenery, a funny sign you saw, your pet, a meme, and anything else you can think of. The more random and creative, the better. Within the past year, this creative use of the carousel feature has almost become a standard practice in Gen–Z Instagram posting etiquette.
With the photo dump trend came less pressure to make the perfect post. In fact, the further from perfect, the better. You can post a photo dump of pictures from the past month, week, or even the entire semester — or just a collection of random photos. It’s an opportunity to express your personality, the things you love, and your humor without the fear of judgement that previously characterized Instagram.
Now, I have much more fun on Instagram, discovering people’s senses of humor and unique moments from their live — something that didn’t happen before the carousel feature and photo dump trend.
Personally, I’ve felt pressure to conform to the imaginary rules of Instagram, whether it was captioning a post a certain way, posting a picture with a specific pose, posting photos from big events just because everyone else is. It’s true that people may feel pressure to conform to the photo dump trend, too. Some may argue that this trend is disingenuous, nothing but artificial attempts to seem quirky, cool, and carefree. However, though the photo dump trend may seem like an example of conformity, it actually invites quite the opposite.
Photo dumps present the chance to be yourself and connect with friends on a deeper level without having to worry about judgement. Instead, many people who see your posts may embrace you for your vulnerability.
The photo dump trend is a step toward fulfilling Instagram’s ideal purpose: connecting people to each other based on authentic representations of their lives.