In our household, we are enthusiastic users of Instagram. I have an account on Instagram with the name of @10ktotalent, my wife has an account with the name @hardlotion, and my 16 year old son has this account @coinchat. Even my 14 year old son Caleb also has his own account called @bladesofbelaq. Why are we so bullish on this social media and encourage our children to use it?
The mention of another social media tool may not move you to care much one way or the other for its existence. But once you hear how Instagram can help your family, I think you will eye this tool with excitement. Maybe someone you know is already using Instagram and it is confirming your ho-hum impression. If so, I’m guessing that person also doesn’t fully understand what he has on his hands and is limited to posting his lunch meals for chuckles. Well yes, for the record, you can post your meals with Instagram and it can make your friends smile wishing they were there with you enjoying a BBQ on your back porch. However Instagram’s true destiny in life is not to take pictures for your family album, but to act as a people-networking tool. The images are used as the focal point around which to gather and better communicate with each other. For those who have a focus in life or want to get better at something, Instagram holds amazing power for accelerating the growth of talent in your young person’s life. Let me explain how.
First let us mention what Instagram is not.
It is not a tool like Facebook where its biggest strength is its ability to connect you with people from your past, such as your old High School friends. And it is not a tool like Twitter where its biggest strength is its ability to telegraph updates, such as running stats from a national marathon, to very, very, large groups of people. It is also not a WordPress blog, where there is room to get into lengthy details as to how a specialized process is executed.
However Instagram can do something unique on its own terms that the other social tools cannot do. What it does, it does extremely well, and far beyond the abilities of Facebook, Twitter, and the WordPress Blog. The strength of Instagram is in its ability to connect you to the live images being poured out by experts and like-minded people from around the world. Instagram is constructed in such a way that it is easy to find and follow inspiring individuals who are passionately engaged around a narrow topic. Not only can Instagram connect you with people who are committed to what they do, but by definition of participating in a social media tool, it also connects you with people who really do want to share information. You can sometimes find individuals in your hometown that are experts in their field, but it is not obvious that they also have the desire or inclination to share their expertise with your child. Instagram addresses that problem by bringing willing people together from across the vast Internet world.
With Instagram you share ONLY first-hand photographs from your mobile phone. There are no 3rd party photos, only first-hand photos of what you and other users see and do. Nothing else but first hand testimony pictures crowd the Instagram viewing experience. (Well, not quite: you will also see some collages and extensive photo editing of pictures, but the individual poster still creates them)
You will not find people in your network who are forwarding links and articles. Instagram will only share images of what they are seeing right then and with their own eyes. It is this stream of first-hand images that creates the depth of emotional impact you will experience in Instagram. They are visual testimonies. For example, if you search for the hashtag #homeschool, you will immediately see a large gallery of photos related to homeschooling taken within the last half hour and within the last minute. These photos will be live pictures of what real families across the nation are deciding to let you see of their homeschool day. The Instagram social network of images allows you to see that particular human activity as it is in its application and not in its theory. This observation may sound banal, but it is not until you experience the focused photostream that you realize this is like getting deluged with fresh flowers by friends throughout the day encouraging you in your own homeschooling journey.
I just explained why Instagram has such power to affect you emotionally, but I have not yet told you how specifically your children can use it to connect themselves to their future and to their talents. Do you remember seeing this sign #? It is called a hashtag. The hashtag is increasingly cropping up next to words in all sorts of other social media. You may have thought that # is an automated sign put there by the computer, but in fact it is a sign deliberately put there by the person typing the text. Apart from the obvious use of it as a humorous attention-seeking device for funny phrases in a caption, you may wonder what all the fuss is really about. The hashtag is a critical device in Instagram as it is the basis for the expansion and quality of your social network. It is critical because users will tag the important words in their photo caption with a hashtag to designate them as the keywords for the computers to organize the millions of pictures it is being sent. Instagram can then catalog your picture with other pictures that have the same hashtag. From then on, whenever someone searches Instagram using a keyword, your picture, if you had tagged it with that same keyword, will come up in the search results. The hashtag in Instagram is used to find pictures, connected to a topic you care about, by other people outside your existing Instagram circle.
Let me you give an example of how the hashtag works in the context of my 14 year old son who is interested in knife making. What he does right now as part of his long term plan for 10,000 hours of talent development involves forging a lot of beginner knives in our open garage. Remember that his account name is @bladesofbelaq [click to view his account].
Side note: In case you were wondering: “belaq” is his name spelt backwards and with the letter “c” replaced by the letter “q”.
As Caleb moves through the stages of one particular knife, he will often photograph his progress with our cell phone and bring attention to a difficult or beautiful part in his execution. He will hashtag his photo with the hashtag word #bladesmithing and add a quick descriptive caption before he loads it up onto Instagram. It just takes a simple tap of the phone to trigger the upload. Within minutes, from around the country, other amateur knife makers will have already left helpful or attaboy comments under his photo. This is very exciting for my son Caleb to be able to interact with all these other young knife makers who would otherwise be working with very little feedback.
So how would these other young motivated knife makers find Caleb in their first place? To find Caleb the first time around, most of those people leaving comments for him would have originally found him by doing a search for the keyword #bladesmithing. They would have liked Caleb’s work as it popped up in a photo gallery for the search result. Then they would have clicked his “follow” button available under his Instagram profile. From then on, they would automatically receive Caleb’s pictures without having to search again with the hashtag.
In return, Caleb might look at the profiles of those who would have left comments under his posted picture. Under their profiles, he would check out their photo gallery. If he likes the other person’s gallery, he might also decide to click the “follow” button under their profiles. From then on their photos would automatically be sent to his Instagram application for his viewing and commenting. As you can see this process of adding others to his social network grows gradually. His knife making network changes dynamically as he adds new people and, at the same time, drops others that he is no longer keen in following. Unlike Facebook his social network does not grow not by adding friends he already knew face-to-face. It grows instead by adding other Instagram users who have the same common narrow interest as his. It is easy to keep your network “clean” of other distractions as you can very discreetly and easily remove people from your social network. This means that pictures of other people’s grandmothers and cousins will not normally find themselves in his photostream – except for the sake of conviviality.
This narrowness of topic with regards to posting photos is what gives your child the freedom to really go all out in sharing without embarrassment or the progress of his work. He knows that his social network on Instagram has specifically declared itself to be hungry for what he has to offer them for inspiration. In the case of Caleb, almost everyone following him is or wants to be an amateur knife maker. He knows that because they originally found him by using the hashtag word #bladesmithing
We all know as parents that one of the things we hope for the most in our children is to have motivation and a desire to succeed and grow at whatever they put their hand to. But it can often be difficult to provide them that right kind of peer supporting environment when all that is available in town is football or soccer. What can one do for the homeschool student when his passion is not a kid sport, but more of a specialized grown-up interest? One easy answer to that obstacle is to turn him on the power of Instagram.
You can get more tips and ideas on how to motivate your child in his homeschool at 10K to Talent including the PDF workshop guide How to Discover and Develop Your Child’s First 100 hours of Talent.