Instagram was the first app I got for my new iPhone way back when. This was approximately 500 years ago, before Instagram was available for Android, and for the first several months I used the photo-sharing service in relative silence. I followed few people, and had even fewer followers, but that didn’t discourage me from capturing the swarm of geese that surrounded me in the Fens, my friends flying kites on Wollaston Beach, many pictures of my cat, and evidence that former MTV VJ Gideon Yago was the previous resident of a friend’s apartment in New York.
“We’re forever on a quest to take a moment and record it forever in time,”said Instagram C.E.O Kevin Systrom. “It’s our collective belief that the world is better off captured and shared more permanently. That’s what Instagram is.”Even the seemingly mundane things receive an air of preciousness once you slap on a filter.I don’t know that I agree entirely with Systrom, but I certainly understand and abide the impulse to record, idealize, catalog, and revisit moments. Even the seemingly (and actually) mundane things, like that frittata you made, receive an air of preciousness once you slap on a filter and, dare I say, a tilt-shift. Instagram makes it possible to exalt every moment, every thing.
Instagram’s video feature boasts “Cinema Mode,” with stabilization so that even those with the shakiest of hands can be adroit videographers. This, for Instagram, is right on brand — creativity and artfulness are an egalitarian fantasy in Instaland. Everyone can achieve insta-success, and through likes and comments create an audience that reinforces the fantasy. It’s exactly what made Instagram so successful as a photo service and so, ostensibly, there is no reason why video won’t be a repeat.Where photos and the moments they capture are immutable, I find the videos — possibly because of their brevity — seem ephemeral.The videos taken with Instagram can be up to fifteen seconds long–more than twice the length offered by probable competitor Vine — and users can edit takes, another feature Vine lacks. Even more so than photos, these short videos are a portal into a life. So far on my feed I’ve seen someone swimming in a pool, a chinchilla skittering around the living room, the view from an NYC subway, and a tracking shot of a beach in Virginia where, somewhere out of view, someone is idly strumming guitar. Where photos and the moments they capture are immutable, I find the videos — possibly because of their brevity — seem ephemeral. It’s a depressing reminder that, despite our best efforts, each moment is fleeting, and watching these clips is a poor substitute for the real thing. As Matt Buchanan writes for The New Yorker, “In the relentless drive to collect all of the world’s moments, [Instagram] is ignoring that there is something meaningful about a photo or video that is destined to be forgotten — a record that does not simply capture a moment but is itself only a moment.”
How I’ve been sharing and cataloguing memories on Instagram, and the reasons why I keep going to it, are perhaps just not well-served by video. As Jenna Wortham writes for The New York Times blog, “Instagram isn’t about reality – it’s about a well-crafted fantasy, a highlights reel of your life.” The project of permanence and the projection of fantasy that Instagram offers its users struggles in its translation to video. It’s too real, as Wortham argues–you can’t eliminate background noise, errant wind, and conversation. Photos offer an idealized moment, and the accumulation of many photos shared over time create an idealized self. What I want to remember and share with Instagram isn’t, perhaps, what video will capture. But with a relatively new service, it’s hard to say. There will be moments, and maybe I will try.
What are your thoughts on Instagram’s new feature? Let us know in the comments below.