Monday, May 13, 2013

The Instagram Complex

I caved. I joined the one social network that I said I'd always avoid. The e-mecca of superficiality-- the watering hole for the vainest inhabitants of the internet. As many of you may have guessed, I speak of Instagram. This is my analysis of that experience.

For those of you who are out of the loop (or have priorities) Instagram is the hot, erm, new-ish social networking site that encourages you to share your photographs with random strangers in a quest to gain likes that matter about as much as the points on Who's Line is it Anyway. You use hashtags with one word descriptions of what the image is in order to get your profile and picture noticed-- ultimately to gain followers. Essentially, it's an amalgam of Facebook's liking, Twitter's conciseness and Flikr's pictures. Kinda shallow, really... at least first glace.

As it turns out, there's much more to Instagram than meets the camera lens. The service provides professional looking filters, blurs and other effects to put a shine on your photos. What's more, the means to which its users interact is unique and a creation made purely by interaction. The hastag driven method of promoting one's photographs has caused a strange sort of evolution in the language used by its users.Words like "selfie" and "nofilter" are thrown around casually, and there's a learned yet unspoken etiquette for pic posting.  Some tags are so popular, people will even use them to promote pictures that have nothing to do with the tag... like putting #puppy #kiss #fun #love on a plain old mirror-shot self-portrait. But that, of course, is looked down on by the hardcore.

Still, I find myself questioning the learned behavior. Why would someone post a billion tags just to get pointless likes? Why do they seek refuge in a filter or photo edits? The answers to my questions are rather obvious this time around. Inflated self-worth... that's really all it boils down to. On the internet, we are free from the burden of substantiating our claims that anchors us down in the physical world. On Facebook, we only post things that paint us in a good light. On Instagram, we literally paint our pictures in a good light-- or filter as the case may be.

I'm dubbing this the Instagram Complex. To define the term (or affliction, depending on how you look at it) I just coined, I'd say when one has an Instagram Complex, the individual has a desire to live out their desired self-image through artificial means via Instagram, and by extension... the entire internet itself. It applies to all social networks. Google+, Twitter, Tumblr and even Blogger- all are rife with the Instagram Complex. I'll use Twitter as an example. Why do we feel the need to tweet or gain followers? A virtual feeling of celebrity. We gain fans and followers just like the blue-checked celebrities we ourselves revere and hold in high regard. The 140 character limit forces us to be concise, so we make every word count. It tricks you into feeling profound, like you are shouting out sagacity into the ether of the web-- rewarded by a random favorite or retweet. With Twitter goggles on, every word we speak feels like a quote. Facebook and Google+ are the same way, but they simulate friendships.

That's the Instagram Complex. We post photos to make our lives seem more interesting than they really are to inflate our own self-worth-- to make ourselves feel like we are living a 'cool' life. Yes, I'm aware these sites profess to be 'sharing-centric' but I believe that, and excuse me if I sound a bit cynical here, humanity doesn't share unless it gains something out of the deal-- especially with faceless individuals we care nothing about. When someone shares a photo on Instagram, there's always an ulterior motive for doing so regardless if they are cognizant of it. When you share a photo the likes you receive validate your coolness or self image. When people you don't even know approve of you, it feels real. They aren't your friends or family, so we can trust them to lack any reason to lie to you. In a way, their opinions mean more.

This is the part where the Instagram Complex has a positive effect. Receiving this steady flow of artificial validation, we start to like ourselves. Self-confidence flourishes, and we see life as a thing of beauty-- full of moments worth capturing and sharing with one another. The pursuit of a life full of nothing but graspable truth is cold and drab. If something makes you happy, does it matter if it's slightly shallow? Nope...  it doesn't. Realness itself is a dying concept in the internet age as the line between virtual and actual is becoming progressively faded. Retaining integrity is important for moral reasons, but there is nothing wrong with a little falseness and a twinge of vanity now and then. The Instagram Complex is one of the reasons the internet is such a beautiful phenomenon. Society has truly evolved, and while the rise of personas on these social networking sites may seem pointless, arrogant and silly, you have to realize it's just a magnification of what real life itself is.

Personality is made of how we represent and express ourselves; it's all real. Our coolness is determined by the perception of others, and we shape our own realities with our actions, voiced words and ideals. Internet famous is now just regular famous, so feel free to get caught up in the Instagram complex.

Who cares if something seems fake when you're feeling good and having fun?

- B

If you want a laugh, here's my Instagram page. It's more of a parody than a serious account, but I'm still having fun nonetheless. (Mostly just taking pics of my lovely girlfriend!)

Here's some good stats for you oogle too, provided by Instagram HERE.