I’ve tried pretty much every Instagram trend in the book. My first photos were blurry and square, embellished with only one of Instagram’s border presets and sepia tone. From there I moved to bird's-eye pictures of my food, snaps of my feet on the streets of Paris. I jumped ship to VSCO filters in 2014 and finally started paying for premium last year. I’ve tried white borders, flat lays, selfies, boomerangs, white borders again, and now I’m on some weird vintage grainy kick that definitely would have been more on trend in, like, 2015. This is to say, I’ve thought about my Instagram way too much for way too long, and it literally was all for nothing. Because Instagram isn’t a place for carefully positioned apartment shots or pictures of yourself in front of walls anymore. Now, after almost 10 years, it’s a place to put photos so you can clear space in your camera roll.

Instagram’s descent into unedited, casual carousels has been a thing for a few years thanks to Gen Z, but at least those still required your friend to stand and take pictures of you on purpose. But now my feed is cluttered with something even lower lift. Usually captioned “dump” or “photo dump” or “camera roll dump,” carousels of out-of-context, unrelated, unfiltered, and often unappealing snaps from someone’s life that don’t tell any kind of story or inspire any kind of envy have become a crutch for an app that has so clearly lost its shine.

While Instagram has always been rife with people cherry-picking small moments of their lives, this new trend flips it on its head. Popular creators like Charli D’Amelio and Ellie Zeiler aren’t broadcasting their highlights, but rather the little moments in their day-to-day lives that aren’t remotely remarkable.


A post shared by ellie zeiler (@elliezeiler)

This trend suggests there’s a general disinterest in the things Instagram once made people all-too-particular about, and begs the question: What is Instagram for, anymore, really?

Activism, for one. A key reason some people have abruptly retired their normally curated aesthetics is out of respect to the Black Lives Matter protests that ignited across the country following the death of George Floyd in May. This prompted a wave of accounts with the intention of facilitating and inspiring action, sometimes through carefully designed infographics. But as Vox writer Terry Nguyen points out, those posts are also rendered somewhat empty by allowing people to easily share them without the ability to hold users accountable to the actual activism they’re encouraging. Plus, despite Instagram’s increased role in the sharing of information, the platform has done nothing—like allowing swipe-ups for all users or the ability to post links in captions—that would actually make it easy. Even its attempts to keep up with the social-media curve, like its TikTok copycat Reels, have failed to impress. 

I still reflexively check Instagram every few hours. A post I did recently got over 100 likes, which gave me a familiar buzz of serotonin with every notification, but my relationship with the app is more often than not as a slack-jawed hypnosis patient going through the motions rather than an active participant. With creators big and small and me-sized losing interest, sharing our camera roll leftovers just to post something and spending the rest of our time on TikTok, Instagram needs to do something to recapture our attention—that’s not just making a worse version of a different app people already love.