Instagram leverages an illusion of creativity
Ordinary photo on the left; arted up with Instgram on the right
By now the rapid ascent of Instagram is familiar to everyone: from zero to one million users in three months; from one to two million in another six weeks.
I signed up when it first came out but didn’t use it much as none of my social friends were there yet. Now it seems everyone’s posting. Even though I’ve only followed a select group of folks (it’s a lot of images to look at if you follow hundreds) I have in my feed their breakfast, lunch, dinner, meetings, architecture, furniture, reading materials and whatever other everyday tsotskes they find across the table, out the window or overhead. And I’ve been doing the same. Publishing everything from chairlift views to close ups of appetizers. And why not? It’s a fast, fun and easy way to share where you are, what you’re doing and whom you’re doing it with.
But it strikes me that the real reason Instagram has taken off is that it provides us with the illusion of creativity. The brilliance of Instagram is that it lets us snap a most ordinary photograph and instantly “art it up” with one of 15 filters. It gives us the sense that we are better photographers than we actually are. We don’t have to do anything other than point our iPhone at the most mundane of subjects. Early Bird, Hefe, Sutor, Toaster and their fellow filters do the rest. We think that we are creating, expressing, being clever. But as Douglas Rushkoff might remind us, we’re simply being programmed. Told by this app what constitutes an image. Just as we’ve been told by Facebook what defines an online profile, a digital friend, or an endorsement. Just as we’ve been told by Tumblr the new format for a blog post.
Bad photo shot from the chairlift; better photo thanks to Instagram
Don’t get me wrong. I really like Instagram. Often an image is a much better way to share an idea, a place or an enviable experience than is a check-in or 140 character soundbite. But we should remain cautious of just how much we let all the new social apps and platforms dictate what we produce and how we communicate.
Instagram or its competitor Picplz may or may not be here to stay. Twitter could take them both out. But the idea of posting images in the stream, in a more socially conducive manner than Flickr or even Facebook allows, is here to stay. Which means you may have to endure (or not) a little visual clutter coming from my direction. I make no claims to being a photographer, but if you want, you can find me out there as edwardboches. If you’re a better shooter than I, perhaps I’ll follow you back. (Smile.)