The Instagramization of the World

Even if you have not noticed it yet, Instagram has already swallowed the world. Welcome in an Instagram World.

I f we except the resignation of its two founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram does not make waves. Unlike Facebook — its “mother house” since 2012 — entangled in the issues of fake news or Twitter facing mass trolling, Instagram looks like a haven of peace. A quiet force that is not affected by the relative discredit that strikes its competitors, enjoying a good brand image while continuing to attract new followers achieving a billion users in only eight years.

What makes Instagram so attractive? This may be partly its restrictions. Unlike other networks that feed on the links with the outside, on Instagram the use of hypertext links is made impossible (or you have to make a tricky move by placing them in your bio). Users are not allowed to share others’ photos on their own account to limit what the founders have called the “alienation of sharing”. A strategic limitation to favor a functioning in vase — relatively — closed, where the others are in constant search of opening all round. A kind of less is more approch. And it’s certainly what made Kevin Systrom say that if Instagram thrived, it was certainly not thanks to what Facebook had done, but rather thanks to what Facebook had not done.

And in fact, for the time being — and until further informations about what Zuckerberg intends to do precisely — Instagram manages to solve the perfect equation being both very popular and very select: succeeding in being a popular network while realeasing the appeal of a private club. Being an oxymoric private mainstream club. No wonder luxury brands — also looking for this complex equation — plebiscite this club.

I n the field of restrictions, there is also the limitation of speech or text. Not the way Twitter does it limitating each post to 280 characters. It’s structural. On Instagram, the word does not embody the value of a logos (λόγος, in Greek) but of a logo (the diminutive for « logotype ») being encapsulated in a hastag which gives it not a semantic value, but a descriptive function. Instagram is not a place for verbalization, but for iconization.

It pulls its strength above all in the almost exclusive power it gives to the image over words. A vertiginous power. We all know the sentence pronunced by Oscar Wilde while observing from a balcony a sunset : « We have a bad Turner tonight ». In his essay Intentions, Wilde pointed out that it is not art that imitates nature, but the opposite: nature imitates art. Not for the pure enjoyment of formulating one more paradox than for telling us that when we contemplate a landscape or a sunset in Nature, we see it through our artistic references. These are filters through which we can find beautiful — or ugly — a landscape or a sunset. What we see, and the way we see it, depends on the arts that shape our view of things.

Oscar Wilde would be delighted — or more likely pissed off — to note that a billion people agree with him. Because actually it’s not Instagram that imitates the world, it’s the world that imitates Instagram.

Club Med designers and architects are urged to design holiday resorts that are not necessarily beautiful or pleasant, but “instagramable” because today customers prefer places they can share on the social network ; more and more restaurants are observing customers who order a dish without even looking at the menu: they have already chosen it on Instagram to share it in turn on the network in a giddy effect of mise en abîme ; the picture of a woman in the hotel La Mamounia wearing a white dress generates in its stride hundreds of photos on the network reproducing the same ritual in the same place ; an English study has noticed that a number of online shoppers (9%) were only getting clothes online to show them on Instagram returning them once the photo shoot to get refund… Instagram swallowed the world.

If the Ancients were looking for Happiness, today we are more in search of Instagramness. What is the point of being happy if you can not display it on Instagram? ¶