Studying apps, social networks, and web sites is one of my favorite pastimes. I like to think I have some idea of what makes them tick. Instagram is the latest one that I think is loosing its grip.
I’m sure that these photos are interesting to someone else, of course. My friends and family mean well. They just want to interact. The consistency of their ’grams are made with good intentions. The familiar faces, warm smiles, and filter-effected snapshots are rejuvenating to the extroverted soul for a fleeting moment.
But it’s all the same after a while. The repetitive nature is increasingly turning friendly interaction into noise: pointless posing for an Internet-wide audience. Now that people share random photos on all social networks, the same types of images keep appearing. The point in them has grown stale.
I’ll pick on Tommy, who I’ll say is a friend who’s name I’ve changed to protect his interests. Tommy shares pictures of people he is around. He wants me to see that he is happy and rarely experiences a dull moment. His pictures say “status: good” every time. And “nothing new or interesting to see here” is also conveyed.
But what is Tommy really experiencing these days? Do I know that Tommy has been struggling to find a job since he’s out of college? Do I hear about his son’s illness? Did he bother to share that he hated Guardians of the Galaxy? No. Tommy just keeps posting intermittent photo updates. Here he’s smiling alongside his dog, another with his kids whilst playing video games, this one of his wife at church…now with his computer at work, and here with beer in hand watching TV on the couch.
Apparently, Tommy wants to put on a great show, and that’s the notable problem. Is this The Truman Show, or what? I thought we were closer friends than this, but now that Instagram and Facebook are the primary ways Tommy likes to interact, all I see is a glimpse of one small piece of Tommy’s life. When was the last time Tommy and I hung out? I can’t remember.
Instagram is a stream of people expressing the same passions over and over. That amateur photographer? He takes macro photos of snails, flowers, and LEGO six days a week (I’ve been guilty of this too, and I apologize). The girl you knew in college? She puts on a plastic smile, then points the camera down on her head as to make her appear thin. This is the photo she shared Monday, and another like it Wednesday and Thursday. Oh, and here we go again… The superficiality and inconsequential stimuli are ever increasing.
I want that time back I wasted flicking through the photo stream for…more interesting and fulfilling pursuits. I’ve got big projects I want to get to, friends I never see, Apple Stores I’ve never walked through….
I’m not deleting the Instagram app from my iPhone, though. Just because I’m in hibernation doesn’t mean I never want to wake up again. There might be a good reason to open it: say, if someone is at an historical event and they’re sharing timely photos. It could happen, and I would like to have Instagram handy for it. But apart from the unanticipated event, I can’t see opening Instagram again.
Please understand that I’m not critiquing Instagram in and of itself. The intent of the developers’ product is not a crime. Sure, I could pick apart the ads force-fed to my eyes, but ads are a smaller concern now. The real issue, for me, is that Instagram has gone the way of Facebook: shallow virtual experiences that take the place of friendships. It’s getting harder to really know one another.
For now, I’ll be taking photos of what matters to me and saving them in my personal photo library. When friends come to visit, I’ll have photo albums handy for sharing, and I will continue to use what time I have to cultivate friendships that exceed the value of a digital Polaroid.