7 Academic Studies of Instagram

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Every new technology has the potential to influence the way we communicate with others and how we see ourselves. Once our habits in the new technology get established, they are ripe for study. The social photo-sharing app Instagram is still relatively new, but research into its effect on our lives is already underway. Here are seven academic studies of Instagram, by their titles.

1. "#FUNERAL AND INSTAGRAM: DEATH, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND PLATFORM VERNACULAR"

How is social media changing how we mourn? This study, published in Information, Communication & Society, analyzed photos shared on Instagram that were accompanied by the hashtag #funeral. Some were selfies or group photos taken at funerals. There were also pictures of objects at ceremonies like vehicles, programs, or food, but rarely of open caskets or headstones. According to the researchers, the use of this kind of social media at funerals indicates a transformation of rituals of mourning, into a less formal and more personal form. While there have long been forms of memorializing the dead on different internet platforms, Instagram memorializing is distinguished by being very “in the moment,” and the “central aim of sharing funeral images is to signify and communicate presence … mourners are sharing photographs to create a sense of proximity, connection and co-presence with friends, family and acquaintances that may not be present.”

2. "WAR ON INSTAGRAM: FRAMING CONFLICT PHOTOJOURNALISM WITH MOBILE PHOTOGRAPHY APPS"

What happens when photojournalists turn to Instagram-style images? A set of photos published on the front page of The New York Times in 2010 sparked a debate on this issue. They were taken on an iPhone using the Hipstamatic filter app by a photojournalist embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. This paper, published in New Media & Society, examines the “technical, aesthetic, and ethical dilemmas that mobile app photography provokes about digital photojournalism.” According to author Meryl Alper, the highly-stylized look of the photos may have a truth-distorting effect, one that makes war look glamorous and hip. Another problem raised by the app photos is how the style of photos the media takes imitates those that soldiers themselves take, blurring the lines between the “objective” photojournalist and the “subjective” soldier.

3. "I'M GOING TO INSTAGRAM IT! AN ANALYSIS OF ATHLETE SELF-PRESENTATION ON INSTAGRAM"

Where athletes' images were once at the mercy of how the media portrayed them, they now have the ability, through social media, to do their own self-presentation in the development of their public image. This study of the Instagram feeds of 27 professional athletes from a range of sports, which was published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, found that despite conventional wisdom suggesting that men are traditionally framed with closer headshots for power and women from more of a distance, in their self-presentation, both male and female athletes tended to post photos that showed their full bodies. The selfie, which usually does not show the whole body, was seldom used. The captions and hashtags that accompanied the photos were also analyzed, and categories of post types emerged that covered themes like humanitarian, family driven, dedicated athlete, and endorser.

4. "FROM #MCDONALDSFAIL TO #DOMINOSSUCKS: AN ANALYSIS OF INSTAGRAM IMAGES ABOUT THE 10 LARGEST FAST FOOD COMPANIES"

Companies are still figuring out the best approach to public relations on social media, especially in so-called “crisis” situations. This study, published in Corporate Communications: An International Journal, looked at negative hashtags about fast food companies on Instagram to analyze how they were used by the public, and how they were responded to. The researches searched for strings like companynameFAIL, companynameSUCKS, and companynamePROBLEMS. Most posts were from customers complaining about service issues. Very few had to do with the food. (Many Starbucks complaints were about names being spelled wrong on cups.) One quarter of the negative posts were from employees complaining about their work environment. The companies in question had very little engagement with or monitoring of such posts, and are advised to “put Instagram next to Facebook and Twitter at the center of their social media strategy and crisis communication plan.”

5. "USING INSTAGRAM PICTURE FEATURES TO PREDICT USERS' PERSONALITY"

This study, published in MultiMedia Modeling, aimed to see whether the way Instagram users used filters to change the look of their photos was related to their personality traits. They had participants agree to allow access to their Instagram accounts and asked them to fill out a personality questionnaire. They analyzed the personality features against image features and found various correlations. For example, the personality trait of openness to experience was correlated with more saturated, vivid colors, and also less inclusion of faces and people in the photos; the trait of neuroticism correlated with higher brightness levels; extroversion tended to correlate with more blue and green colors, rather than red and orange.

6. "INSTAGRAM: MOTIVES FOR ITS USE AND RELATIONSHIP TO NARCISSISM AND CONTEXTUAL AGE"

This study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, used a survey of college students to examine the reasons why they use Instagram, and how it relates to narcissism and contextual age (a sort of measure of where you are in life with respect to life satisfaction, interpersonal relationships, and social activity). The researchers found that Instagram is used mainly for four things: “Surveillance/Knowledge about others,” “Documentation,” “Coolness,” and “Creativity.” Surveillance was the reason most correlated with the amount of time these students used Instagram. Coolness and Creativity were the reasons most correlated with amount of time editing photos. The amount of time spent editing photos was also significantly related to narcissism.

7. "SOCIAL MEDIA AND LONELINESS: WHY AN INSTAGRAM PICTURE MAY BE WORTH MORE THAN A THOUSAND TWITTER WORDS"

This study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, aimed to see whether image-based as opposed to text-based social media was more likely to relieve loneliness because of the greater intimacy and feeling of “realness” for pictures. Using surveys, the researchers found that image-based social media did seem to be associated with a decrease in self-reported loneliness. Loneliness was highest among those who used no image-based social media. The use of text-based social media alone did nothing to reduce loneliness: “If anything,” the researchers wrote, “increased use of text-based media may exacerbate loneliness.”

10 Electrifying Facts About Michael Faraday

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This world-changing genius was born into poverty on September 22, 1791. Fortunately for us, Michael Faraday refused to let his background stand in his way.

1. HE WAS LARGELY SELF-EDUCATED.

In Faraday's boyhood home, money was always tight. His father, James, was a sickly blacksmith who struggled to support a wife and four children in one of London's poorer outskirts. At age 13, young Faraday started helping the family make ends meet. Bookseller George Ribeau (sometimes spelled Riebau) took him on as an errand boy in 1804, with the teen's primary job being the delivery and recovery of loaned-out newspapers.

Shortly after Faraday's 14th birthday, Ribeau offered him a free apprenticeship. Over the next seven years, he mastered the trade of bookbinding. After hours, Faraday remained in Ribeau's store, hungrily reading many of the same volumes he'd bound together.

Like most lower-class boys, Faraday's formal schooling was very limited. Between those bookshelves, however, he taught himself a great deal—especially about chemistry, physics, and a mysterious force called "electricity."

2. A 300-PAGE NOTEBOOK LAUNCHED HIS SCIENTIFIC CAREER.


Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0 

Sir Humphry Davy (above) left a huge mark on science. In the year 1808 alone, the man discovered no less than five elements, including calcium and boron. An excellent public speaker, Davy's lectures at the Royal Institution consistently drew huge crowds. 

Twenty-year-old Faraday attended four of these presentations in 1812, having received tickets from a customer. As Davy spoke, Faraday jotted down detailed notes, which he then compiled and bound into a little book. Faraday sent his 300-page transcript to Davy. Duly impressed, the seasoned scientist eventually hired him as a lab assistant. Later in life, Davy was asked to name the greatest discovery he'd ever made. His answer: "Michael Faraday."

Tension would nevertheless erupt between mentor and protégé. As Faraday's accomplishments began to eclipse his own, Davy accused the younger man of plagiarizing another scientist's work (this rumor was swiftly discredited) and tried to block his admission to the Royal Society.

3. IF IT WEREN'T FOR FARADAY, WE MIGHT NOT HAVE ELECTRIC POWER.

On September 3, 1821, Faraday built a device that ushered technology into the modern era. One year earlier, Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted had demonstrated that when an electric current flows through a wire, a magnetic field is created around it. Faraday capitalized on this revelation. Inside the Royal Society basement, he began what was arguably his most groundbreaking experiment by placing a magnet in the bottom of a mercury-filled glass container. Dangling overhead was a wire, which Faraday connected to a battery. Once an electric current was conducted through the wire, it began rotating around the magnet.

Faraday had just built the world's first electric motor. How could he possibly top himself? By building the world's first electric generator. His first experiment was comprised of a simple ring of wires and cotton through which he passed a magnet. By doing so, he found that a current was generated. To this day, most electricity is made using the same principles.

4. FARADAY INVENTED THE RUBBER BALLOON.


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By today's standards, his early models would look shabby. Made via pressing two sheets of rubber together, Faraday's balloons were used to contain hydrogen during his experiments. Faraday created his first in 1824 and was quick to praise the bag's “considerable ascending power.” Toy manufacturers started distributing these the following year.

5. HE'S ALSO THE GRANDFATHER OF MODERN REFRIGERATORS.

In 1823, Faraday sealed a sample of chlorine hydrate inside a V-shaped tube. As he heated one end and cooled the other simultaneously, the scientist noticed that a peculiar yellow liquid was starting to form. Curious, he broke open the tube. Without warning, a sudden, violent explosion sent glass shards flying everywhere. Mercifully uninjured, he smelled a strong scent of chlorine in the air.

It didn't take him very long to figure out what had happened. Inside the tube, pressure was building, which liquefied the gas. Upon puncturing the glass, he'd released this pressure and, afterwards, the liquid reverted into its gaseous state. This sudden evaporation came with an interesting side-effect: it cooled down the surrounding air. Quite unintentionally, Faraday thus set the stage for the very first ice-making machines and refrigeration units.

6. HE BECAME AN ANTI-POLLUTION CRUSADER.

Britain's industrialization came at a malodorous price. As London grew more crowded during the mid-1800s, garbage and fecal matter were dumped into the River Thames with increasing regularity. Naturally, the area didn't smell like a rose. In 1855, Faraday penned an oft-reproduced open letter about the problem, imploring the authorities to take action. “If we neglect this subject,” he wrote, “we cannot expect to do so with impunity; nor ought we be surprised if, ere many years are over, a hot season give us sad proof for the folly of our carelessness.”

Just as Faraday predicted, a broiling summer forced Londoners of all stripes to hold their noses. Dubbed “the Great Stink,” the warmer months of 1858 sent the Thames' rancid odor wafting all over the city. Parliament hastily responded with a comprehensive sewage reform bill. Gradually, the putrid stench began to dissipate.

7. HE STARTED THE ROYAL SOCIETY'S CHRISTMAS LECTURE TRADITION.


Alexander Blaikley, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Faraday understood the importance of making science accessible to the public. In 1825, while employed by the Royal Society, he spearheaded an annual series that's still going strong today. That holiday season, engineer John Millington delivered a set of layman-friendly lectures on “natural philosophy.” Every year thereafter (excluding 1939–1942 because of WWII), a prominent scientist has been invited to follow in his footsteps. Well-known Christmas lecturers include David Attenborough (1973), Carl Sagan (1977), and Richard Dawkins (1991). Faraday himself was the presenter on no less than 19 occasions.

8. BRILLIANT AS FARADAY WAS, HE STRUGGLED WITH MATH.

Towards the end of his life, Faraday's lack of formal education finally caught up with him. An underprivileged childhood had rendered him mathematically illiterate, a severe handicap for a professional scientist. In 1846, he hypothesized that light itself is an electromagnetic phenomenon, but because Faraday couldn't support the notion with mathematics, it wasn't taken seriously. Salvation for him came in the form of a young physicist named James Clerk Maxwell. Familial wealth had enabled Maxwell to pursue math and—in 1864—he released equations [PDF] that helped prove Faraday's hunch.

9. AS TIME WORE ON, HE STRUGGLED WITH MEMORY LOSS.

Michael Faraday
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At the age of 48, Faraday's once-sharp memory started faltering. Stricken by an illness that rendered him unable to work for three years, he wrestled with vertigo, unsteadiness, and other symptoms. Following this "extended vacation" [PDF], he returned to the Royal Society, where he experimented away until his early 70s.

However, Faraday was still prone to inexplicable spurts of sudden giddiness, depression, and extreme forgetfulness. “[My] bad memory,” he wrote, “both loses recent things and sometimes suggests old ones as new.” Nobody knows what caused this affliction, though some blame it on overexposure to mercury.

10. EINSTEIN KEPT A PORTRAIT OF FARADAY IN HIS BERLIN HOME.

Fittingly, the father of modern physics regarded Faraday as a personal hero. Once, upon receiving a book about him, Einstein remarked, “This man loved mysterious Nature as a lover loves his distant beloved.”

This Amateur Rocketeer Builds Functioning, Miniature Replicas of SpaceX Rockets

Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

Amateur rocketry is a hobby that predates NASA. Hobbyists have successfully made it to space using rockets built without the massive budgets and resources available to larger organizations. And some of these rockets do more than reach incredible heights: As Motherboard reports, Joe Barnard, a 25-year-old rocketeer from Nashville, Tennessee, is working on making model rockets capable of propulsive landings, the same trick that makes some SpaceX rockets reusable.

Most rocket boosters that propel loads past the Earth's atmosphere are designed to go only one way. In 2015, Elon Musk's space exploration company SpaceX made history when it successfully maneuvered the boosters used to launch its Falcon 9 rocket back onto the landing pad. SpaceX says its latest version of the rocket can be re-flown up to 100 times, saving the company millions of dollars per launch.

Joe Barnard is bringing this same level of innovation to the amateur rocketry world. He first became interested in aerospace engineering after watching early SpaceX videos, and instead of earning a degree in the field, he taught himself the basics. He's since made rocketry into a career, founding Barnard Propulsion Systems (BPS), a small business that sells supplies to other hobbyists, and working on rockets of his own.

Like the rockets at SpaceX, Barnard's creations use thrust vectoring—the technology that makes it possible to navigate and stabilize a rocket after launch—only on a much smaller scale. He's built miniature models of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, and as is the case at SpaceX, his launches don't always run smoothly.

Barnard is still perfecting propulsive landings in amateur rockets, but for now he says each failure is a learning experience. You can watch the progress of his experiments on his YouTube channel.

[h/t Motherboard]

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