The moral ethos, tantric lust and fakery of Instagram

The Ten Commandments are imperatives followed by the Jews, Catholics and Protestants for happy life — don’t steal, cheat, lie — set down by Moses and immortalized by the tanned Charlton Heston in the 1956 film by Cecil B. DeMille. The idea, of course, is that delayed consequences typically outweigh the pleasure of the moment; sleep with the hottie next door and oh, what a tantric afternoon, but when you lose your beloved later to a lawsuit you won’t feel so fine. Of these laws, the most interesting perhaps is “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

Idols. We wonder, of course, at the meaning — no, this isn’t a blog about God, but instead of communications value. So why would a multi-thousand-yearlong meme about spirituality suggest that “idols” are as bad for your soul as sleeping with your neighbor’s spouse?

We live in an age of idolatry, from the obvious American Idol and reality-TV-flavored New Jersey housewives with plumed bosoms to iPods that cocoon us in artificial music and laptops that pull us to friends we have never met. Instagram is the latest invention, a seven-month-old social network of photo sharing that allows a snapshot of lackluster scenery to become a minor work of art.

Boring reality

For example, see the photo above. This was shot quickly on a cycling trip as the image of a tree before a cloudy sky caught our eye. The actual image wasn’t impressive, but we thought, “we can do something with that.” A crop, alignment, filter, and viola — colors bloom.

The expression of the human soul and hunger for connections have been with us for generations, but we are evolving to the point where technology can distort the world around us. Instagram is the latest addiction; a wonderfully clever service that ties quickly into Twitter to give your existing social graph a new overlay, photos you can edit into almost any creation. So we feel more connection to the world around us that doesn’t quite exist. The pastels of unreality are wonderful. What happens when technology embeds filters in our contacts, and artificial overlays make any image appear more what we want than what it is? Eventually, we can turn anything into a beautiful construct. Are fake idols good for us, too?

Until we figure it out, we’ll play on Instagram. It has more than 2 million users already, and is attracting 130,000 idolaters each week.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

4 thoughts on “The moral ethos, tantric lust and fakery of Instagram

  1. At first I balked at your use of tantric. As if getting frisky with the neighbor always resulted in a melding of Shiva and Shakti energies.

    Then I got to “plumed bosoms” and realized you were just having fun. So I imagined a chorus of monks chanting “Bennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn Kuuuuuuuunnnnnnzzzz” in a very melodic manner and returned to the business of reading.

    [Commercial break: Mullen’s new work for BN’s Nook Color is also about the business of reading and conjures a delightful spectrum of emotions in its tale of bookery.]

    I think the same argument you use against Instagram might have been voiced during the introduction of autofocus to cameras. How dare we create something that allows people to capture and share their world in a way that gives them the satisfaction of creating something that sucks just a little less than it might otherwise?

    Chefs didn’t mourn the death of cooking when the easy-bake oven hit the market. I’m not worried about digitized toy cameras.

    I think I get what you’re trying to say in the bit about connections and technology skewing views. But in order to agree with your conclusion I’d have to believe we humans are fully aware of our entire selves and have the ability to openly and honestly communicate what it means to be that self through conversation with others. Until I see evidence that wholly contradicts my belief in humans as striving, wondering creatures who truly connect infrequently at best, I feel safe in saying that we’re just getting started.

    Rose-colored glasses are wonderful things for people who need a little more red in their life. =)

  2. Seth, first, your comments are wonderful and you should get a job as a writer. Maybe for an agency.

    Now, re the artificial overlays, I suppose one could argue that all of human perception is a discoloration of the world. The idea that we should dig rocks out of the ground and meld them into shiny objects and trade based on artificial numbers that don’t exist is a little silly; criticizing Instagram leaves out my wristwatch, eyeglasses, bank account and religion, all distorted objects not really connected with the earth.

    My thought, though, is that while all humanity has been off base with our views of what is real, we may be distorting our best judgments with new tools. The two largest debates of our age, the division of resources (capitalism vs. socialism) and the conservatism of society (the West vs. radical Islam) have become more polarized as media pulls us apart. People from foreign lands destroy our buildings; people on Fox News scream at people from MSNBC; our president is not longer a political opponent to some but a person supposedly not born on our soil.

    Our ability to see only what we want is changing us in ways that may be harmful, to ourselves and those around us. Once we achieve perfect rose-colored-glasses control, I wonder how far the destabilization of society will go.

    Don’t get me wrong. I do love the colors of Instagram.


  3. Technology long ago allowed us to distort the world around us (i.e. You use an external stomach, aka stove, to eat foods not otherwise of value.)

    Photographers have long distorted the images they captured. Painters, too. Not to mention Paul Revere’s dramatic prints propagandizing the Boston Massacre.

    Technology enables us to do what we want to do. If we want to create false idols, we will, because we always have.

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