How Instagram Makes You Basic, Boring, and Completely Deranged

By now, most people are familiar with the bad tendencies Instagram encourages: self-absorption, stalking, pastel-pink blandness. Two recent works—a novel, "Sympathy," and a film, "Ingrid Goes West"—take this as their subject.

In the early years of Twitter, a common criticism of the service went something like this: "Why would anyone care what I had for breakfast? And I don't think people need to know every time I go to the bathroom!" The mundane filler of one's life, the quaintly sense-making skeptics argued, was not interesting enough to sustain a virtual community.

Quickly they were proven wrong. Twitter revealed itself to be much more than a repository for inconsequential observations; for better or worse, it became a hub for the publication and dissemination of news, fake news, opinion, ideas, recommendations, jokes, and the whims of the president of the United States. But the function of Twitter was not the doubters' only misjudgment. People actually do care what strangers have for breakfast or when they use the bathroom. The right platform for that kind of information just turned out to be more visual.

Since launching in 2010 with an off-kilter, high-contrast image of a marina shot through a backlit windowpane, the photo-sharing app Instagram has made exponential an argument from Susan Sontag's 1977 book On Photography: "The omnipresence of cameras persuasively suggests that time consists of interesting events, events worth photographing." With more than 700 million users and one million advertisers who post an average of 95 million photos and videos per day, the service has both become a culture unto itself—with its own norms, customs, values, and even a style of dress and cuisine—as well as altered the way its users see, act, and think in the world beyond their screens....more