Jedward - Instagrammed
Whenever you make an outlandish claim on the internet, you will get the same snarky response – “pics or it didn’t happen.” The English writer and commentator Charlie Brooker discovered this a few days ago when he claimed on Twitter to have concocted a chocolate and mackerel paté. He duly posted this photo.
So, if you claim to have a tattoo of Hello Kitty in an attempt to seem quirky, or claim to have met One Direction in a misguided attempt to connect with a misguided tween, or claim, as I once did in a highly unsuccessful attempt to gain the favours of a certain young lady, to be a relative of Prince William’s, you can expect to be asked to provide photographic proof. In which case all I can suggest is “Photoshop and it did happen.”
Actually, let me just stop there for a moment and offer a warning. Do not claim to have met One Direction unless it’s actually true, because your tween will literally never forgive you. I can’t begin to understand why they’re popular. I only know, from the 94 million views this video has received, that they are. Yes, even though they sound about as musical as an angle-grinder, and have far less personality.
Instagram: stuffed toy with designer beer.
I should also clarify that I never Photoshopped myself next to Prince William. But mainly because I don’t have the skills.
The "pics or it didn't happen" phenomenon provides the key to understanding the popularity of Instagram, which is probably the best service out there for sharing photos from a mobile phone. It’s become so important because we now expect everyone to take photographs all the time, whenever anything noteworthy happens – and even when it doesn’t.
Instagram: sad man with sign searching for love.
I’m as guilty of this as anybody. For instance, when I was on holidays in Tokyo last week, some of my travelling companions claimed that they saw Jedward on the street. It took me several minutes to recover from the disappointment of not seeing two individuals who look this ridiculous in the flesh. (Although the linked video very much overcompensates for that. Shudder.) It took several minutes more to recover from my disappointment that my friends didn’t even take a photo. I honestly couldn’t believe it. One of them had a smartphone handy, and what could possibly be more important than photographic proof of an encounter with Jedward?
Our instinct to constantly take photos documenting every tiny triviality is why Instagram is worth $1 billion to Facebook. Well at least, that’s why it's worth quite a bit of money – I have no idea why Mark Zuckerberg paid $1 billion for a free app when he could have done what he did with Foursquare's location check-ins and offered an identical feature without handing over a cent.
Nevertheless, Instagram is important because there are stacks of us out there with smartphones, happily snapping away. More photos are uploaded to the Flickr photo-sharing site from the iPhone than from any ‘real’ camera. But phone cameras have tended to be substandard when compared to stand-alone digital models. This has created a market for apps that make your smartphone photos look charmingly lo-fi instead of just mediocre, with filters called groovy things like Toaster, Nashville and Walden. That way, your photos can look as though they’re intentionally crappy. And if my friends’ efforts are anything to go by, the ultimate Instagram filter is one that makes your colours unnaturalistically cheerful and the light curiously uneven, as though your iPhone was at Woodstock and had just discovered acid.
Instagram: zines. Of course.
But while the photos have a certain charm, I’m not sure I see the point. I’d rather take the best possible representative photo without any cheesy effects, so that the emphasis is on the subject rather than the whizzbang filters. I’ve no real need for a 1977 filter, since I already have actual photos from 1977, what with that being the year of my birth. And I tend to applaud the evolution of camera technology in the 35 years since, rather than hoping to evoke the simplistic palette of yesteryear on a vastly superior digital camera. And that’s why despite having downloaded Instagram, I’ve barely used it.
What’s more, Instagram’s whole reason for being has become somewhat superseded. It was handy with the first few iPhones which had lacklustre cameras, but the latest 4S model already takes fairly decent images, as Ars Technica established. Already the cameras on the latest smartphones are indistinguishable from the dedicated consumer digital cameras of a few years ago, and they’ll only continue to improve.
But as ever, I’m in the distinct minority when it comes to the enticing charms of hipsterdom. And what would I know, anyway? I like my bicycles with gears.
Instagram: cake with nail art book.
By contrast, SMH.com.au quoted the ultimate example of an Instagrammer yesterday – an architect from Brooklyn whose name is Darwin. I don’t even need to look up his Instagram account to envisage his lopsided haircut and thick black rimmed glasses. Probably also a trilby or flat cap. It’s not a surprise that Instagram’s chief competitor is called Hipstamatic.
(Well actually, in the interests of honest journalism, I think I found Darwin on the internet, and he looks more like this. Whatevs – he still probably wears knitted neckties when he’s out sipping microbrews.)
The tech commentator Stilgherrian wrote a convincing analysis of why Facebook bought Instragram yesterday, and I particularly chuckled at his point about Facebook’s Borg-like assimilation of users’ private information as being the real source of the value in the acquisition. Facebook now owns the photos of endless Darwin types who have pooh-poohed Mark Zuckerberg’s service, and thought they were using something cooler. And yet, even as we speak, Facebook’s face-scanning engine is no doubt churning through millions of Instagram images of bearded faces, and its location map is popping up with millions of new data points in Williamsburg and Surry Hills.
Instagram: twee postcard.
But I wonder whether Facebook’s very acquisition will kill what value there is in Instagram. They’re the largest social network, and because of that, they’re no longer anything like cool. And surely the twee novelty of Instagram images will wear off, especially when those same effects become natively available in Facebook? I won’t be at all surprised if in two years’ time, architects in Brooklyn would rather die than use Instagram. If it isn’t already on the verge of being passé, I reckon adding the much-reviled Facebook brand will finish the job.
And yes, I know the app only just came out on Android. Pfft, Android.
If you’ll forgive an attempt to get ahead of the hipster curve by someone who’s already established that he’s in no way hip, I’m already sick of Instagram and its dodgy kaleidoscope colours. Can’t we just take photos with our phones that are authentic, y’know? Organic? Without artifice? Like people used to do, back in the good old days of slightly more low-res digital cameras?
Oh, and one more thing, as the guy who invented the iPhone liked to say. I’d like to gratuitously boast that I’ll be seeing One Direction perform live at the Logies on Sunday. But you’ll have to take my word for it, because there’s no way I’m posting a picture of myself with them on the internet.