Instead, Instagram turns the experience of friendship into a passive act by which poetically generalized mementos from day-to-day life wait for their circuit of meaning to be completed when some unforeseen confidant on the other end of the server plucks them out of the flow. Just as the bewilderment of Grand Central Station abates the instant a familiar face emerges from the chaos, Instagram’s chaotic whole is neutralized with every liked photo.
Instagram's expansion to 15-second video clips only reinforces this structure of discovering tiny little touches of unexpected affection by undercutting the compositional control slightly. As Bianca Bosker argues in The Huffington Post, video is "harder to fake, pose and perfect; it captures not just an instant, but a period in time." You might be able to fake a cool stance in a photo, but you're that much closer to being your transparent, dopey self in video, and this charges each potential like with the potential for even greater intimacy. This person likes me not just for the perfected artifice of a still-life but for the full-motion, full-awkward me.
The experience of being appreciated for being yourself is as pure a distillation of friendship as there is, and that is ultimately what Instagram is in the business of providing. 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.
And just as advertising can make a person feel like they're betraying an ideal by not continuing to buy a product, Instagram's deepest hook is the impression that one is walking away from one's friends and the uncatalyzed emotional support they have to give by not continuing to post.
Adding video to that platform pushes that hook just a little deeper into the flesh of our daily lives. And slowly, the experience of living transforms from the practice of learning to be one's self to learning to become a capture device for the still-undocumented media we need as pretext to say “I love you”—to no one, and everyone, at the same time.
Michael Thomsen is Complex.com's tech columnist. He has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Inquiry, n+1, Billboard, and is author of Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. He tweets often at @mike_thomsen.