Has Instagram Become Too Mainstream to Be Cool?


As someone who lives almost 7,000 miles from home, I’m all about social media. The idea behind Instagram, sharing photos with speed and some thought, is something that keeps me sane whenever I have to miss a wedding or holiday. But, there are other times when I scroll through my newsfeed, looking at all of the discolored selfies and think, “Why Instagram?”

In 2010, just as the iPhone 4 was coming out, Instagram founder, Kevin Systrom, accepted the recommendation from his girlfriend to create image filters for the app he and partner, Mike Krieger, were developing. They began with X-Pro II, which was designed to mimic the effect of, “cross-processing where you take the wrong chemicals for the wrong film and you put them together.”  

Let’s stop right there. In case you haven’t already taken a good, long look at your Instagram uploads, they are supposed to look like poorly developed film. When used with artistic discretion, this isn’t really that startling. However, what started as an artsy gimmick is now the standard for how I see the world back home. As I sit at my desk in Korea, it looks as if digital photography still hasn’t been invented yet in America!

The irony of our world’s hyper-connectivity juxtaposed with the nostalgic tendencies of the millennial generation, may have always been intended by the company. When it came to naming the service, Systrom and Krieger agreed that “instant” was the key word. After trying hundreds of possible mashups, they settled on “telegram” as the second component. Receiving an actual telegram would be a hipster’s fantasy, but these days people don’t even want to wait for a Polaroid to develop. And so, Instagram was born.


Instagram launched on October 6, 2010. On that first day, the app had 25,000 users, and it grew exponentially from there. Everyone remembers the $1 billion deal of the century when Facebook bought the company of 13 employees with 30 million users a year and a half later. Today, Instagram boasts 100 million users. Still, I’m asking myself, “Why?”

Maybe I haven’t given Instagram enough credit. While the effects of the filters are limited to the “cookie cutter” method of application, it still serves as an artistic tool for so many who would otherwise hesitate to exercise creativity.  

Macworld's Executive Editor, Jon Seff, says that having Instagram makes him more thoughtful when he sees something cool to shoot and gets an idea to embellish it.  While most artists, including myself, hate the emptiness of a word like “cool,” it fits perfectly with Instagram. This application is also pushing users to work (slightly more) abstractly, making images “more powerful to viewers because they have to work harder to interpret the images.”


To remain relevant, the company has has to reach beyond filters, recently resulting in a showdown with Vine. Instagram, despite it’s original intention to look old, is still coming out on top. The Bulletin reported this week, “On the day after video was added to Instagram the number of links to Vine content fell by nearly half a million, whilst Instagram links shared rose by more than 300,000.” Just as we long for the days of film photography, Instagram users remain stubborn old grannies clinging to a brand they’ve trusted for over two and a half years.

So, is Instagram too popular to be cool? No. Instagram is beyond cool at this point.  Between our desperate grasp on nostalgia, a desire to exercise creativity on the subway and our old-fashioned attitude toward business, Instagram isn’t going anywhere. Let’s just hope the same goes for the much higher standards of photography in places like National Geographic.