Instagram and Homogenization Of Culture

I’ve been sitting in a cafe looking out onto a downtown Chicago street, watching people pass by and trying to think what to write about for the last hour and a half. As I watch hundreds of people walk by, I can’t help but notice something–almost everybody looks similar, within their chosen “performance of self” categories as they do in Minneapolis.

I’ve noticed the same thing during recent trips to Los Angeles and New York.

Now, I’m certainly no sartorialist myself, but I can’t help but think about why this might be. With the age of the internet and mobile devices, specifically apps like Instagram, we’re seeing a broader perspective than we ever have before. We’re getting a direct feed from people all over the world as to what they think is cool and interesting.

Location is no longer a consideration when it comes to fashion, as you could see a really interesting outfit worn by a guy in Japan while scrolling through Instagram on your lunch break. If it is deemed worthy by Instagram’s algorithms, then tens of thousands of people will see that same image all over the world.

While inspiration likely previously came from traveling, or perhaps just walking down your own block and seeing what your friends were wearing, we’ve centralized a place where the coolest trends can exist. Where around the world, if something is cool, it can instantly be picked up in New York, Los Angeles, or wherever.

It seems to me that this would kill the phenomenon of regionalized style–Los Angeles having a “look” that is different from New York, or even Japan.

But as our feeds become filled with references from around the world, we become influenced by all of the same things. It becomes like one giant neighborhood where people get to experience and see what they like and want to imitate.

I would imagine that this substantially reduces the number of different styles in different regional areas as everyone has access to every different region now, and instead of dressing a certain way because our friends, neighbors, or community dresses that way, we can reflect what we see at much higher level.

In terms of business, I find this interesting because it provides a marketplace where companies could potentially tap into a global market instead of being more of a niche market–the trends will change as time goes along, just as fashion always has. But now the market for that type of fashion is massive, created by the centralized model of Instagram.

This also means that in terms of a broader market, more companies have to compete within the broader categories, looking for ways to stand out from other labels, etc. I find this particularly interesting with the trend towards no/low branding on apparel. The giant Abercrombie logo on t-shirts is generally found to be tacky now and most modern clothing only subtly features branding of that type.

Perhaps a small pelican logo or something like that. In a way, this might drive fast fashion, cheaply made clothing that costs less than competitors, as people try to find a way to stand out while still buying clothing that generally looks like this centralized, world-wide style.

I have to question whether this will have the same affect on culture in general, I imagine that it will. As we’re all able to see and access aspects of world culture through our phones, we naturally will adapt certain aspects of those cultures.

In 100 years will this mean that we are a global culture, as we become more connected across the continents and eventually unify as a single species? I’m not sure, but I can tell you that there are a whole lot of people that look a lot alike walking past this window I’m looking out of.