User Manual: Don’t Instagram Natural Disasters
By Sam Biddle
Instagram is a nice thing. It’s fun to peek at the lives of others, and it’s fun to make our photos look fun. But there’s nothing fun about a hurricane people are dying in, and scenes from a horrific crisis don’t deserve to be drenched in your sepia.
In the 90s, in our youths, when there were few ways to look and feel special on the Internet, sOmE oF uS UsEd tO wRiTe LiKe tHiS. It was stupid, and empty, but it helped some gain a sense of individuality, even though they were just copying it from somewhere else.
Now we have Instagram, and we can, with the tap of a screen, turn a picture of virtually anything into something that identifies us as unique, creative, fun, and astute. It’s mostly harmless. Your mother holding a peach, colors blown out, the edges faded for some reason. Sure, why not.
And Instagram can also be poignant—valuable, even. When something sad or wonderful happens, it’s a direct visual pipe to your friends. No noise to avoid, as is the case with Facebook. You share it, they see it. So when a storm of historically nasty proportions rips up beaches, floods homes, and inconveniences a lot of cranky people with smartphones, Instagram is inundated. It becomes part of the historical record. It becomes a news source.
It also becomes a gross, crass way for people to shellack their poor taste and poorer judgment across the face of tragedy.
The reality of a natural disaster is shocking and compelling enough without augmenting its color. A flooded supermarket or a demolished apartment don’t need boosted contrast. They stand on their own. Their mood needs no enhancing—the mood is dark enough. Sandy’s images should stick with us for a long time, and not because we ran them through an automatic software filter, the amount of time it took to select is probably eclipsed by the time it took to open the app. Reality is enough. Instagramming is a fine but thoughtless hobby. Our digital reaction to Sandy should be anything but thoughtless. Record the misery, but keep filters out of it.
If you want to tint the picture of you and your neighbors playing Yahtzee during a power outage, that’s cool—but leave the rest out of it. A waterlogged warzone isn’t your latte.