Where Would Instagram Be Without Filters? Lost in the Uncanny Valley.

Why special effects are better than “reality”

Caleb Garling
Oct 20, 2014 · Unlisted

A simple interface, an ephemeral moment, a constrained set of tools, a curated version of life, the rise of cameraphones — these were catalysts for Instagram’s success. But there is also, and I’m sorry to use such a word but it does fit, a “magic” in the way the app could transform photos.

When Facebook ponied up to buy Instagram I joked Zuckerberg had just spent a billion dollars on camera filters. Soon, Twitter and other companies began to tout filters on their photo apps. Anyone could take a picture with their phone and make them look (somewhat) appealing — call it artistic or professional.

Typical representation of the uncanny valley

Think how often a picture looks better, more engaging, when turned to black and white—hues that look nothing like real life. We detect the contours of real life in the photo — get that framework of reality — and the image, subconsciously, becomes our coloring book, providing just enough guidance that the mind works to fill in the rest.

(Musicians may recognize this idea: the appeal of a song existing between the notes. Thelonious Monk once wrote, “What you don’t play can be as important as what you do play. A note can be as big or as small as the world, it depends on your imagination.” Listen to Miles Davis’s Flamenco Sketches to hear that idea in action. And anyone that prefers reading over television will resonate with the notion — let my mind show me the story, not a screen.)


Mining the tech world for lively and meaningful tales and…

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store