How Instagram Allows Us to Filter the World

Photo by Adrian Korte

Photo by Adrian Korte

During the recent uproar about Instagram privacy policies, Ryan Block, technology journalist and critic, blogged that in his search for “technology products and services that add value to my life,” he fell out of love with the “highly filtered square photos of sunsets and (often delicious-looking) plates of food” that are a staple of Instagram. Word, Ryan Block. I feel your pain.

His sentiments exactly reflect why I’ve hesitated to use Instagram in the first place. Yes, “live” posting adds a certain authenticity to the directed attention of the camera. On the other hand, the square crop and colored filters that are characteristic of the app don’t really reflect what you see in the world, and constant feeds of vintage or lo-fi looks applied to everyday things can grow tiring. What’s inspiring about a world like that?

Still, you can’t overlook the fact that 100 million users find something about Instagram captivating. So I recently decided to join and do some image exploration to answer the question:

What are other ways Instagram allows us to filter the world?

  1. Communicating live experiences Instagram brings awareness to stories happening in the present. During the hurricane season, many news organizations took advantage of Instagram’s capabilities, capturing raw and unedited scenes posted by those in the middle of the storm. Similarly, Instagram feeds, like NPR’s Live from North Korea, give us a window into moments and stories that would otherwise be inaccessible. Celebrities, companies, and everyday people all communicate different messages through the same medium. Some may post images that reinforce a lifestyle or brand promise, while others, more humbly, share meaningful images of their everyday lives.
  2. Connecting creative individuals Artists, bloggers, chefs, fashionistas, and hobbyists can connect through a simple search of the hashtag. You filter to find those with common interests and you follow if you are inspired. The Instagram blog has weekly hashtag competitions, which, if you participate, almost become a social and artistic practice. The medium of a photograph transcends language barriers between classes and cultures and demands attention in a different way. It is artistic, because you are training yourself to capture images that follow a certain theme. Printmakers and painters do the same thing, but the accessibility of Instagram allows almost anyone to practice seeing their world in that way. While, the addition of social engament and marketing adds an interesting twist to the image feeds.
  3. Conscientious cropping Choosing a focus through the 1:1 crop tool can reframe how you look at something ordinary. When you follow an Instagram user you are following how they experience the world. Although you've never met them in person, it is their persona, their personality, that intrigues you. You find yourself asking, "What is their focus? What are they leaving outside the frame?" When I walk down Barracks Row armed with my Instagram app, I set the intention of filtering my view by looking at typography on signs and patterns in the buildings. I'm acutely aware of the contrasting colors, juxtaposing textures and repeating shapes and so on that walk, I experience Barracks Row in a whole different way.

So, I'm sticking with Instagram because I am fascinated with how this social media app has reached so many people. The ground rules are the same (a 1:1 square photo), yet users have found countless ways to express themselves and meet their needs on this platform. Perhaps the reason people love it so much is because it allows them to record and receive recognition for their own stories. What do you use Instagram for? Why do you choose to not use it?

follow me: @alissa_joelle