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Monday, June 24, 2013

Instagram Video and the Death of Fantasy

Over the weekend, I went to a sunset picnic on a rooftop in Brooklyn. The evening couldn’t have been more picturesque â€" a group of stylish women chatting and lounging on blankets, framed against a lavender and glittering cityscape.

I pulled out my phone to capture the moment. I opened Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, and turned on the company’s new feature that lets people upload short videos in addition to photographs. I tried to document the carefully arranged snacks and decorations and capture the liveliness of the mood, but what I got instead was a grainy video of dresses and hair, whipped around by the wind, music thumping from a party next door and snippets of a conversation about birth control.

Last week, when Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, and Kevin Systrom, the chief executive of Instagram, introduced the new video-sharing feature/a>, they described it as the future of memory, a way to capture the moments and experiences that you wanted to remember and share them with your friends. But while that shaky video that I took on the roof was definitely steeped in reality and definitely true to the moment, it wasn’t the version of the night that I wanted to remember or share with my Instagram friends.

That’s because Instagram isn’t about reality - it’s about a well-crafted fantasy, a highlights reel of your life that shows off versions of yourself that you want to remember and put on display in a glass case for other people to admire and browse through. It’s why most of the photographs uploaded to Instagram are beautiful and entertaining slices of life and not the tedious time in-between of those moments, when bills get paid, cranky children are put to bed, little spats with friends.

Instag! ram is a yearbook of our most memorable moments, not because they’re the moments worth remembering, but because they’re the moments worth projecting and sharing. And that’s part of the reason the service is the success that it is today, with 130 million users who have uploaded more than six billion photos to the service in less than three years.

Video, at least the amateurish footage I shot, is the antithesis of that fantasy. And as much as I think we’re getting more comfortable being ourselves online, there’s still a difference between the self you’re willing to share publicly and the self you’re willing to share when only a handful of people are watching.

This is a distinction that Facebook â€" and now, by association, Instagram â€" has never seemed to understand.

The introduction of video sharing on Instagram feels like the latest indicator of that disconnect. Video is imperfect. Itâ€s a lot harder to craft a perfect video of your outdoor picnic, of waves crashing at the beach. It takes a lot more thought to turn the everyday quotidian into the spectacular, regardless of the dozen filters, editing effects and smoothing software that Instagram’s new video feature offers. None of this is to say that people don’t want to share the mundane with each other â€" if anything, the rise of messaging services like Snapchat and WhatsApp that offer people more personal and private ways to send visual status updates to each other, away from the prying, curious eyes of their entire social network, indicates that we are eager for more intimate and honest communication with the people we are closest to in our lives.

But those interactions don’t live on Facebook, nor do they live on Instagram, a facet of those social networks that everyone except both companies seems to understand.

Of course, none of this means that video on Instagram won’t be a success. It’s already seeing s! ome early! adoption â€" within the first 24 hours of its release, Instagram said it had five million video uploaded to the service. And the early popularity of Vine, Twitter’s video-sharing tool, is proof that people love making quirky short films about their lives. And while I do think there’s something interesting happening with the intersection of memory and devices and social networks, it might not be something that can happen in public, where friends, family and co-workers can comment and interact with it.