THE BLOG

Beware of Instagram: A Picture Doesn't Speak a Thousand Words

04/02/2014 12:26 GMT | Updated 05/04/2014 10:59 BST

We are a social-network generation. When I was thirteen we had Bebo and MSN, then it all moved to Facebook. Now we have collectively entered the nascent Instagram era. While Instagram may seem like a picturesque, sepia-tinted way to document our lives, our growing fondness for the app arguably says some very disconcerting things about our 'sharing' habits.

In the age of 'information technology' we seem to feel that less and less defines us. On Bebo you could 'spread the love', MSN was about spilling your heart out to your crush or gossiping with your best friend. Twitter (at its most effective) is for controversy: engaging in national debates, having your say. They all involved emotion, and/or articulation. Instagram, Instagram's for...pictures. You take a nice photo that neatly captures, let's say, your breakfast. You mess about with filter, then 'gram it and tag it. The lowest amount of effort is involved, expression cut to what you can squeeze in a hashtag. So, why is it so popular, why are people willing to sacrifice words - communicative, complex words - for pictures? Maybe it's for the likes.

You've posted, now anyone can 'like' your photo. You tag 'eggs', someone searches #eggs, likes your photo, and there you go: validation that you made eggs, people like eggs, therefore people like your eggs - and like you? That is the Insta feel-good logic. Hence the spawn of insipid tags #l4l (like for like) #f4f (follow for follow).

Surely I'm not the only person to see the pointlessness in such clamours for attention and approval. Why would you invite a random person to scrutinise your life? Furthermore, what are you going to do with those 'likes', put them on your CV? ('I once 'got 2000 likes' on a photo of a Starbucks coffee, please employ me'). Gone are meaningful lines from tangible persons; transient thumbs-up from simulacrum cyber-personae are very much in vogue.

Yes, Facebook induces over-sharing. I know all of my friends birthdays, break-ups, locations, one over-enthusiastic young mum even announced her son's first poo in a potty via a status. But, cringeworthy as it is, at least Facebook involves real people that you have hopefully had a face-to-face conversation with at some point in your life: you build a network of connections based on experience. Instagram seems like a vast, sprawling web-wasteland in comparison.

The worst thing about Instagram? No, it's not that Kim K's butt fills our feeds or 'baby outfit of the day' is a thing, but that it's simply not real. The reason we need words is because, ultimately, life cannot be contained in a cute, square box; there are no rose-tinted filters, you do not always look camera-ready, and there are only so many coffees you can buy and cute puppies you can stalk.

Life is messy, controversial, stupid, upsetting and thrilling - pictures only half reflect that. At best, Instagram is a useful picture-sharing app. At its worst, it razes our need for real communication, debate and opinion, and increases our desire for un-meaty, meaningless praise from strangers.

I guess we have to wait for someone to create a better replacement. In the mean time, I'm off to 'gram my brunch.