A video feature on Instagram is now available. But what, exactly, does this mean for us?
When I was 18 I told my best friend I loved him for the first time. We'd been friends since kindergarten and we were just starting college together in a city neither of us had lived in before.
One of the boyish pleasures of our 13-year friendship came from simultaneously encouraging and ridiculing one another for our variously superficial personas—a surfer one year, a guitar player the next, a teen poet the year after—and how each new identity was more incongruous than the last.
In the same way that advertisements are platforms for making a person think there is something nobly poetic about their purchasing decisions, Instagram transforms self-surveillance into a form of intimate validation.
As I built the courage to articulate how much he'd come to mean to me after all that time, I felt the awkward self-awareness one feels when formalizing humorless truths into weighty declarations. And so I stumbled around a sentence that didn't seem to have an elegant way to be composed, knowing that the meaning of that moment would depend on how he reacted.
When Facebook announced yesterday that it was introducing video-sharing on Instagram, it was this moment that immediately came to mind. It would have fit neatly into a 15-second clip. The horribleness of a college dormitory room combined with the delicacy of emotional awkwardness would have made an ideal little scrap of comedy for social media.
Yet, knowing there was no third party intermediary to give meaning to the exchange deepened its intensity and intimacy. It was impossible to perform for anyone other than my friend and myself in that moment.
Like every variant that can be amassed under the banner of social media, Instagram is primarily in the syphoning business: It subtly redirects the energy of intimate exchanges. Instead of intimacy, social media favors maximal transmissibility across a vast network of strangers who riffle through each other’s leftovers.
In some ways, those fragments become indistinguishable from advertisements because of each platform’s limitations—140 characters, 6 seconds, 15 seconds—all of which force us to think like copywriters, reducing the complexity of our lives to burnished slogans and psychoanalytic micro-gestures.
It's not so much that we're selling ourselves as the product as we are translating experience and memory into units of exchange. This pays for our access to a community that sends ripples of closeness and friendship back to us with each server ping. The pictures are the buy-in and the feelings of intimacy are the goods being sold. This structure inverts the function of physical friendship, in which one person seeks another out for a specifically intimate reason.