Why Instagram Matters

by TylerJ

What characterizes the so-called advanced societies is that they consume images and no longer, like those of the past, beliefs – Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

Last week TechCrunch reported that Instagram has surpassed 4.25 million users in just seven short months. To put this into perspective, as Gizmodo points out, it took Twitter over two years to reach one million users. Perhaps the most impressive number revealed, however, is that the photo service receives an average of ten user photos per second. What this indicates is that people are not only signing up for the service, but they are also using it.

Ultimately, I believe Instagram’s (for the uninitiated click here) popularity is attributable to one primary factor: the ease of sharing one’s story. Instagram becomes a beautiful scrapbook of our daily lives, which we can instantly share with our friends. By choosing a filter for a photo, I am choosing how I would like to present myself to the world.

On the right is a recent screenshot of my photofeed after a trip to my sister’s graduation. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, which get bogged down with distracting updates and other text, Instagram presents a clean, noiseless, easily accessible account of my trip.

But that’s only half of the story. The true potential of Instagram becomes revealed during newsworthy events such as the tornado that tore through Joplin, MO or the reporting of the death of Bin Laden. A simple search of the hashtag “#joplin” or “#binladen” yields hundreds of photos taken by ordinary people that provide a visual account of an event as it unfolds. Where words fail, images pick up the slack and the results are incredibly affecting:

Photos from Joplin, MO

Photos from night of Bin Laden’s death

The photos from the night of Bin Laden’s death perfectly illustrate our yearning to participate in a major event as it unfolds because they are all of one thing: our televisions. So while we all tweeted: “Bin Laden is dead,” on Instagram we uploaded photos of our living rooms–each one unique. And it is precisely there that we see the power of Instagram: where Twitter gives us facts, Instagram gives us a story.