A New Way to Really Think About Instagram

Photo-sharing apps like Instagram and Snapchat enable you to share a moment of your life with people, pretty much in real time, no matter where you are. Instagram was launched in 2010, and by now, in late 2017, there are about 800 million users worldwide. I hear that’s what the kids prefer to Facebook. It seems to me that the popularity of Instagram is due to (1) its simplicity (2) its visual nature.

But although it was meant to help us share our lives with others, it seems these days that we live our life just so that we can share it. And this is a problem. How many times have you had a night out with your friends and felt the keen urgency of that selfie/”wefie” moment? Ten minutes into the experience, you were probably already thinking about how much fun it’d look like you were having. There is an almost ritualistic aspect to this: the experience, the taking of the photo, the posting online, the waiting for that gentle chime as the likes and comments come in. @stagbillat67 liked your photo. Awesome.

In fact, maybe @stagbillat67 liking your photo is better than the actual night.

I suspect by now very few of us can step into a beautiful scene anywhere without already composing Instagram shots in our head. You are in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico for a vacation. Looking up, you see the blue skies over the beautifully colored buildings. Perhaps in your mind’s eye, you are also seeing it already neatly placed within the Instagram grid layout.

So many writers have mused on the human need to preserve a memory or a place in time through photography. Our need to capture a moment goes back way before “social media.” Yet, just as technology has accelerated so many aspects of human life beyond our imagination, social media has similarly changed our relation to image-capturing.

First of all, Instagram comes with filters; they are designed to make life look like a movie or an advertisement with little or not much effort at all. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Instagram is so attractive; the app is designed in such a way to make your life look attractive. Life is messy, varied and frankly not that photogenic 90% of the time. But Instagram’s layout, its filters, its very brand really, all these elements fulfill a curating function. Celebrities usually need PR agents to curate a glamorous life for their client–ie. the media-captured life of someone like Taylor Swift is airbrushed and strategically mapped out to make her image sellable to us. Real people mostly don’t have PR agents, but Instagram and its filters fulfill some of the same functions. (A recent indie movie, Ingrid Goes West, brilliantly captures this phenomenon.)

The question is whether Instagram culture makes real (non-uploaded) life feel less satisfying… Does real life lose some of its colour?

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not another anti-technology rant! Obviously, something like @stagbillat67 liking our photo makes us happy because this is just the way we live today. There is life behind our relation to technology–it is also our relation to people (with smartphones). In a way, Instagram is just another arm of communication.

Yet, call me old-fashioned, but I feel that our relation to technology should be an extension of our life, not the other way around. The lives we lead should not be primarily experienced as an extension of social media platforms. The point of any experience shouldn’t be to post another Instagram photo. (Read: “Is Social Media Ruining Your Life?”)

Moreover, being glued to our phones takes us away from that fleeting, precious thing that we wanted to capture and preserve in the first place–life itself. We should probably try to experience that, on its own terms–even if it doesn’t take place under warm afternoon lights.

After all, you can’t hear your friends laugh in an Instagram photo; you can’t feel the temperature on your skin. And @stagbillat67 liking a photo surely isn’t as great as making out with the actual guy. Are you going to Instagram that as well?

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