Nori Perez December 6, 2018CM 309 CUNY SPS ” Fall 2018Instagram and Its Screen CultureIntroduction:Media theorist Marshall McLuhan once stated that “cool mediums are those with high participation” whereby the audience is an active constituent of the viewing or listening experience. McLuhan elegantly argued that our society went from a print culture to a culture reliant on electricity (electric culture) with the advent of the telegraph and subsequently the television screen. I would like to apply McLuhan’s ideas in the context of social media ” specifically Instagram as a social media application/platform and as a cool medium.
Narcissism & The Mirror Effect:I believe that if McLuhan were alive today, he would apply the same argument regarding Instagram and social media as a cool medium where individuals can access information quickly and efficiently. Instagram currently affords its user the ability to perform many functions, including but not limited to, posting pictures, videos, and communicating with other users via a direct message feature.
In addition, Instagram allows the end user to act as a participatory observer in the lives of other Instagram users. McLuhan would have certainly referred to our society today as a screen culture. And just like how he referred to the television screen as a proverbial mirror whereby causing one to become mesmerized by the reflection given off by the screen, so too does a social media platform like Instagram achieve the same purpose (Adria, 2016).McLuhan expanded on this concept by describing the numbing effects of media in his bestselling book, Understanding Media: “Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions until he became the servomechanism of his own extended or repeated image. The nymph Echo tried to win his love with fragments of his own speech, but in vain. He was numb. He had adapted to his extension of himself and had become a closed system.”(Adria, 2016) I would like to further examine the following: Is Instagram reshaping our society? And how does narcissism play a part in our screen culture?As a medium, Instagram serves as a mirror thereby becoming an extension of ourselves as humans. It allows us to see ourselves and others on a screen and make assumptions and sometimes pass judgment. It also provides us with a mechanism to see our image and that of others replicated in the form of selfies and funny video posts forming a constant flow of imagery in loop. McLuhan has stated in his work on new forms of media that the use of a brand-new form of technology as a means of communication constitutes an exchange. The exchange being the willful documentation of everyday life in exchange for attention and validation. Instagram as a cool medium provides the user with the benefit of heightened perception. This virtual heightened perception changes the way we view ourselves and others in relation to our irrespective realities thereby creating a cultural shift. A Brief History of InstagramIn 2010, Instagram, a then photo sharing platform was launched as the brainchild of Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Instagram has morphed into a photo and video sharing platform that also includes a messaging feature whereby users can communicate and interact. The platform itself is used by over 500 million users worldwide and its valuation is set to be worth over a billion, thanks largely to being purchased by Facebook. And it has become the number one free photography app on the planet.The platform itself was created by Systrom to assist him fine tune his coding skills. The app itself was originally called Burbn and was conceived to be used among his inner circle of friends where they can use it to check-in to places as well as upload photos. The idea was so well received that Systrom shopped the app around to secure investor capital. Soon after creating a viable prototype, Systrom was able to demo the app in front of seed capital firms willing to provide seed money to fund making the app into a real business venture. Prior to its launch, Instagram took almost a year to develop and fine tune. And a little over two years to become hugely successful. Both Systrom and Krieger were able to take their original concept app and fine tune by centering its use on one single phone feature ” the camera. Instagram has revolutionized social networking in our modern era.Social Media Then & Now:Prior to Instagram, other social media platforms such as Myspace and Facebook also have afforded its users the very same capabilities to interact and overshare part of their lives with others online, at will. As a society, we are becoming increasingly more dependent on social media. Social media after all does serve a purpose as it is a means of entertainment and provides an escape from the everyday ills of life, and the world around us. It also acts as a proverbial soapbox by which individuals can freely express their opinions and thought processes in an instant. A streaming flow of consciousness that is constantly being refreshed, thanks in part to a few algorithms and a feed.Since its inception, Instagram has become a fast-growing and popular social media platform. Instagram users can engage with other users and develop a positive relationship and perception within the tool based on their overall life satisfaction and social activity, such as traveling, going to sporting events, having dinner and drinks with friends, for example. Instagram acts as a medium that motivates its users to willingly share glimpses of their everyday lives by the means of a controlled environment (Bryant, K., & Sheldon, P. 2016). On the other hand, Instagram, when used for the wrong reasons, has the ability to further perpetuate a narcissist’s agenda. Instagram allows narcissists to self-promote in a way that they can form, foster and control shallow relationships with other users (Moon, 2016). A study was conducted by the Department of Public Relations & Advertising, Sookmyung Women’s University, Republic of Korea by means of having 212 active Instagram users in Korea complete an online survey. The results of the study showed that individuals that ranked higher in narcissism tended to post selfies, updated their profile picture more often, and spent more time on Instagram, as compared to their counterparts (Moon, 2016). They also rated their Instagram profile pictures as more physically attractive (Moon, 2016). Instagram was originally meant to allow other users a sneak peek behind the curtain into the lives of other users and has now morphed into an ever-present quest for validation in order to assuage one’s vanity.The Past & Present Collide:In 1969, media theorist Marshall McLuhan was interviewed by Playboy whereby he stated that “the basic thing to remember about electric media,” he further explained, “is that they inexorably transform every sense ratio and thus recondition and restructure all our values and institutions.” McLuhan’s prediction regarding electric media has come to fruition, but I don’t think McLuhan would have expected our screen culture to be as it stands today: a society that lives for the image that is reflected from the proverbial mirror. Simple day-to-day events and things like enjoying brunch with friends, happy hour with colleagues or enjoying an overpriced caf© au lait really has not transpired unless there is documentation or a record of said activities and events on Instagram, where others can witness in real-time or after the fact and validate our inherent experiences via a tap of an Instagram post (New Republic, 2016). Self-worth and popularity has now become directly tied to the number of followers a user has on their page as well as the number of likes received on posts. One can also make the argument the social media platforms like Instagram are to blame for the body image issues as well as an inability to decipher reality from farce. Conclusion:Social Media has become the fastest and most prominent medium for people to communicate, interact, and obtain information in today’s digital age. It has changed our way of life in terms of how we communicate with one another as well as how we express our views and address certain issues. It also serves as a vehicle for the unauthentic and self-obsessed to pick apart their individuality and showcase that which has been filtered and deemed worthy of praise and validation. It has become easier to achieve perfection by editing a picture as opposed to the hard work it takes to truly be comfortable in your own skin.ReferencesAdria, M. (21 Feb 2016). What would Marshall McLuhan say about screen culture? The Calgary Journal. Retrieved from: D. (4 Jul 2018). Memoir and McLuhan In the Social Media Era. Forbes Online Magazine. Retrieved from: K., & Sheldon, P. (2016). Elsevier. Instagram: Motives for its use and relationship to narcissism and contextual age. Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 58, pp. 89-97. doi: # 10.1016/j.chb.2015.12.059McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media: The extensions of Man. 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