A sense of immediacy


I have come to love Instagram. And really, that is quite surprising, since its supposed magic is obvious, almost obnoxiously so: A remarkable simple layout for a remarkably simple experience. Square photos, a set of filters, a feed of pictures. Let’s skip the discussion about filters (I think our children are in fact going shake their heads in disbelief for ruining each shot from of our times with vintage filters) and focus on what really makes Instagram great: The ability to share photos quickly.

Over the past years, the app has become the first thing I open on my phone in the morning: Images flash across the screen, stylized photos from across the world – and somehow it always conveys an overwhelming sense of immediacy. The photographer Clayton Cubitt recently wrote an essay called “Always on”. He argues that photography used to be about “One photographer. One lens. One camera. One angle. One moment. Once you miss it, it is gone forever. Future generations will lament all the decisive moments we lost to these limitations, just as we lament the absence of photographs from pre-photographic eras.” According to Cubritt, we have abandoned this decisive moment of photography, the Kodak moment if you will, and replaced it with what he calls the “constant moment”. With that he describes the advent of devices like Google Glass that are always recording, but to me, Instagram is already a great departure from the decisive moment.

I have been taking photos for a very long time. When I first started out and walked around our neighborhood with my father’s digital camera, the whole process felt incredibly seamless and – most of all – stunningly fast. It is probably for that reason that I have never really been able to dedicate myself to analogue photography. While I love the look of it (did anyone just say vintage filters?), the process has always felt too clunky and too limited by the long time it takes to actually see the photos. I  grew up in the age of instant gratification – and believe that we, as a society, have effectively unlearned waiting.

When I started writing this post, I was on vacation and would find myself increasingly reaching for the iPhone in my pocket rather than the camera in my bag. The reason was simple: Not only does the newest generation of phones take relatively good pictures, they also let me view, edit and share photos immediately. Because of this, taking photos with my digital camera suddenly felt very slow, almost like the process of a bygone era. I would have to import the photos to my computer, edit, upload and share them. The phone combines all of these steps in a matter of a few tabs.

The thought of radical disruption in the camera business has long fascinated me. I am speaking from a usability standpoint, since the great disruption of the technology already occurred back when we switched from film to digital. But despite their newly transplanted, digital hearts, cameras still look largely like they did years ago, with all the knobs and twiddly bits that I believe could be stripped away in favor of something simpler. That would be rendered obsolete when a camera came around, that did to the D-SLR market what the iPhone did to mobile phones.

I am starting to think that kind of sudden disruption isn’t going to happen so soon. Instead, I am sure we will soon see smart cameras, running their own OS, cameras that are connected to the Internet to allowing sharing like we see on phones today.