Presumably by now we've all at least tried it. We've all at least had a look. A few weeks ago, our little social media worlds got rocked because Instagram did something new and it felt like a rainbow coming out of the clouds.
Instagram stories makes the world look a brighter, shinier and damn right funnier place. Just at a time when we need it most. This uncertain era post Brexit, and pre-Trump presidency (yes, really) means our social media is swamped by negativity, worry and where cat photos and skateboarding dogs got relegated behind the real news stories doing the rounds. None of them positive.
But Instagram stories feels different. It is all jolly and amusing, like the most pleasantly surprising wake up call, a little hit of madness and sunshine against the backdrop of the plodding downbeat tone. So where the hell did this all come from and why does it get a personality which is so bright and breezy?
The fact is, before it arrived, we thought we had it licked, right? We thought we had all our social platforms understood, when to use them and what worked for us. Like a Batman utility belt with just the right range of tools to get us through even the longest train journey.
For instance, we knew where we were with Facebook which was less 'a place for friends', and more a place for 'other people's baby photos' or a chance to check-in to somewhere cool. Oh yes, we secretly loved to elicit FOMO on anyone who was still looking at our oh so vacuous status updates. Airport terminal lounges are the best, where you could even point out where the flight was heading, like the ultimate humble brag.
Then you had Snapchat, but this was something people over the age of 18 could barely get to grips with, being all bold, OTT and in your face. Pointing a camera at us the moment we opened the app. Not giving us time to stage that perfect shot, and just breezily grabbing the moment anyway. How rude!
Twitter was a take it or leave it chance to catch breaking news, especially snarky and on form when Brad Pitt was hit with divorce papers but only useful to publish something on when you have something amazing to tell the world. And we all know it's really like watching Sunday night on E! channel but in text form, come on admit it.
Then Instagram stories pops up and the world feels like it makes more sense again. Like Ottis Redding is singing in the background and clouds really are rolling away. It took all of the things Snapchat did, but made it less confusing, much easier to understand and a bit more gentle on us. Effectively Snapchat for the middle-aged middle classes. You only balk because you know it's true.
Because the thing with Instagram stories is that it managed to change the look of everything, in one fowl swoop. Where as its boring big brother was about choosing from a selection of photographs you've taken, each of the same subject, then selecting one of gazillion filters, until you just happened to 'grab' that sunset at the absolute perfect moment.
This was a whole different art form.
With Instagram stories, you can only stick up what you capture there and then. No messing around pretending you're in an A-level photographic light room playing with chemicals and exposure levels. It even allows you to write, draw or scrawl over the top of that picture too. So if the chosen image wasn't raw enough, you get to show how carefree and throw away it is by literally sticking child-like graffiti all over the top of it. What a laugh. You instantly turn into a crazed 7 year old you again, using bright fluorescent crayola colours to stick big speech bubbles over that shot and you're smiling without even realising.
Their piece de resistance though (well, we are being a bit arty so why not) is all of this can be done over video. Keeping our thumbs on the button means we record until we lift it back off, so you've got the chance to record moments as moments, not moments as you fabricate or invent them. This is real life made colourful. This is grabbing the world and adding a hyperreal layer. It is like seeing the world in technicolour again, as if Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka character was in built to every single one of our phones and controlling our little artistic endeavours from behind the screen.
So if you have a look now, I challenge you not to smile. Social media hasn't had this much fun since Twitter first launched and we all felt part of a secret club, a mad little talkative circus where Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry emerged as the surprising ring masters but before it all got bogged down in news horrors and trolling.
Instagram stories is a tiny tweak in some clever programmers code yet it lifts our lives. What a cool and surprising thing that is. We spend so much time dipping in and out of social media which is baked into our phones that it has much more of a constant role in our day to day than you'd like to admit.
So when someone clever does something to lighten the load, we should thank them then indulge completely. This is exactly the world we want to be a part of, where smiling happy faces are our new normal... and where no headshot is allowed to be uploaded without some crudely drawn-on rabbit ears, too.
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