Instagram has become a popular social media platform, with over 1 billion users worldwide. On Instagram, people communicate through pictures and videos about a wide range of subjects. Here, we are particularly interested in how people communicate about outdoor activities such as hillwalking, climbing and mountain biking.
Communicating about the outdoors through visual media has a long history, from landscape painting to nature photography. We know that such portrayals of nature have influenced how we see and experience nature. But while in the past painters and photographers were a select group of professionals and hobbyists, nowadays smartphones and social media make visual communication accessible to a wide public and enable people to tell their own story to everyone. Some researchers argue that this allows the public to hear diverse voices and allows people to share new representations of the outdoors. By contrast, other researchers point out that the way in which social media platforms work leads to dominant voices becoming even louder, and to a reduction in diversity.
However, we know relatively little about the experiences of the users who post outdoor images on Instagram: why and what they post, how they feel about Instagram’s potential and influence, and how this influences what they do in the outdoors. Our research set out to address these questions, using Instagram posts and interview with outdoor recreationists in Scotland. We found that our participants had similar ideas on what an “Instagrammable” picture was: They shared special moments, beautiful landscapes and happy memories. Yet, this also made some participants uneasy and, as an antidote, they sometimes tried to show the less attractive parts of their experience. Participants also reflected on how Instagram could interfere with their outdoor activity and developed strategies to reduce these interferences, for example, by not tagging placenames to prevent overcrowding, or not using Instagram during the activity to make sure they were enjoying the moment. Our study illustrates the importance of exploring users’ own experiences to unpack the dynamic and complex interactions between people and technology. These interactions are characterised by tensions between the features of the technology that facilitate the homogenisation of nature stories, and the users’ efforts to counter these