The casual posting movement is making social media fun again

Forget perfectionism or painstakingly following trends - it's time to post like it's 2013 and nobody's watching

Hero image in post
photo: The Social Network / Columbia Pictures
Hero image in post
photo: The Social Network / Columbia Pictures

Forget perfectionism or painstakingly following trends - it's time to post like it's 2013 and nobody's watching

By Sophie Lou Wilson05 Jun 2023
8 mins read time
8 mins read time

You’re 13 years old and creating an Instagram account for the first time. It feels exciting and grown up. Everyone at school is already on there and you’ve been feeling left out. You post a quick mirror selfie. Or the book you’re reading. Or the cupcakes you baked earlier. Your friends like it. You get 10 new followers. The dopamine rush is electrifying. Maybe this is how you get famous or, at the very least, make some new friends who share your interests. A whole world of possibilities awaits. Oh, and everything is drenched in the Valencia filter: the aesthetic version of whatever overpowering olfactory scents topless models used to spray on Abercrombie's t-shirt tables

Ten years later and posting on Instagram feels more like a chore than anything else. Each time you post, you’re riddled with anxiety about how you’ll be perceived. You delete then re-download the app five times a week. You spend hours crafting each post. You turn likes off, then back on again. You delete the posts that get low engagement which is, like, all of them because the algorithm is always changing. Most of the time, you wish you could throw your phone in the sea and go live in a forest somewhere, but you need social media for work and for talking to friends and you still remember a time when posting used to be fun.

When we first logged on, we were promised greater connection and endless opportunities for self-expression. For many, social media started out as an exciting, exploratory space to chat with mates, explore interests and share opinions. In short, it was our very own digital playground. Now, it seems like that utopic vision has soured: studies show a correlation between a high amount of screen time and experiencing depressive symptoms. A 2017 survey of 18-24 year olds found that four out of five of the most used social media platforms made their anxiety worse.

But the narrative that social media is rotting our brains and ruining our mental health isn't as cut and dried as some naysayers would have you believe. Several studies also suggest that concerns over social media and mental health might be exaggerated. They also note the positive impact these platforms can have on strengthening offline social networks. One study in particular, conducted by Harvard School of Public Health in 2020, concluded that the ways people use social media may have more of an impact on their mental health and wellbeing than frequency and duration of their use. This means it might be possible to use social media in a healthier way, to even make it enjoyable again. But how?

Shitposters, memes and out-of-focus photo dumps: the rise of casual Instagram

In 2019, Instagram started rolling out the removal of visible likes so that users could “focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.” Taking a less numbers-based approach to social media can make using it more fun, but it’s often easier said than done. After all, there are still follower accounts at the top of each page and numbers remain important indicators of influence.

What’s been more instrumental in making social media less serious hasn’t come from the platforms themselves, but from the people who use them. Lately, there’s been a noticeable aesthetic shift away from perfection. The popularity of monthly photo dumps has taken away the pressure to post that one perfect pic and, instead, we’re embracing ugly, blurry or otherwise lo-fi images more than ever. This approach feels much more like those early, less-subconscious posts we would share when we downloaded Instagram for the first time.

Monthly photo dumps are made up of stuff we already just happened to have on our phones at the end of the month. The lower effort it appears, the better. Food from fancy restaurants is replaced by smiley potato faces and beans you made for tea. Selfies taken in dirty mirrors take the place of intentionally angled front camera pouts. Memes, screenshots and in-jokes pepper every post.

This removes the painstaking process of snapping shots specially for the ‘gram. In theory, the less effort we put into posting, the less we care about the response. The pandemic was a catalyst for many when it came to taking this alternative approach to online presence. When Jessie posted a fake skateboarding video as a joke in 2020, she found it more fun than sharing her artwork and she’s been taking Instagram less seriously ever since. “I like seeing posts that show real people being stupid,” she says. “Humour can be so niche so finding those accounts that match your niche feels connective. I find humanness more palatable when I'm consuming content that warms the heart with humour.”

Jake doesn’t take social media seriously anymore either, but it wasn’t always this way. During college, he developed what he calls, “a minor reputation as a shitposter – memes, celebrity pics with humorous captions, that sort of thing.” He started to notice how online validation would take precedence over real life interactions. “Someone could compliment my outfit in the street and my first thought would be, ‘Well I better snap a pic of it’ as though I couldn’t simply wear the outfit again another day.”

However, this all changed in the face of loss. “My best friend passed away and I felt former classmates expecting me to say something about it online,” he says. “In the face of mortality, nothing felt so stupid as scrolling through my camera roll trying to select photos to ‘memorialise’ my dead bestie on Instagram. After that, I withdrew from regular posting and nothing online was that deep for me again.” These days, Jake stays online for the memes and exposure to art, preferring humorous photo dumps to a hyper-curated online presence.

Random photo dumps might be just another digital trend, but with them comes a celebration of rawness and vulnerability over curation, even if these posts are just curated in a different way. This, alongside the option to remove visible likes, the growing popularity of digital detoxes and open conversations about unfollowing people who make us feel bad could mean we’re entering an era of more mindful social media use, one where posting online isn’t so fraught with pressure and self-consciousness. The anxiety might not go away entirely, but perhaps it can evolve into the same excitement and sense of fun that felt back when we logged on for the very first time.

The casual posting movement and 2010s nostalgia

While the shift from curated perfection to casual posting is partly led by Instagram, TikTok has also cultivated several laidback trends. 'Day dumping', where users share a carousel of images from a single day, mimics Instagram’s monthly photo dumps by ostensibly offering more authentic peek into the poster's daily life. Meanwhile, slideshows of quotes and memes offer a more casual way to engage with the platform.

TikTok is very trend-driven, so "curation" on the platform looks like jumping on timely trends using sounds and hashtags: while the individual videos might look lo-fi, things change so quickly that it's easy to get caught up in a clout-chasing content churn. If it sounds exhausting, that's because, for many, it is.

But for every high effort short film or edited dance video, there are several more laidback posts where users share notes app screenshots or photo montages from recent holidays. TikToks don't have to be highly curated to connect with people. Quick, silly videos can do just as well and, for people who don't make content for a career, it's easy to dip in and out of the trend cycle and only engage with what authentically resonates with them. Yep, the good old days of pressureless social media are making a comeback, even on the internet's most youth-saturated platform.

TikTok's slideshow montages along with the current popularity of Pinterest reflect nostalgia for platforms like Tumblr where you didn't have to create your own content or put in a lot of effort to gain a following. You could explore and bond over shared interests with a level of anonymity that distanced you from the kind of posting anxiety that is so prevalent on Instagram.

So, just as Instagram is throwing back to its 2012 beginnings, TikTok is looking to the 2010s and social media's past - specifically the hey-day of micro-blogging Tumblr and Pinterest - in order to reinvent itself. We're all fed up with the impossible strive for perfection online. Now, we just want to enjoy social media again and post as if nobody's watching.

Taking a more laidback approach to socials might be easier said than done, but as the casual posting movement spreads across platforms, there's something to be said for taking yourself less seriously and focusing on enjoyment instead. That's what we signed up for, after all.