I'm Up In Your Instagram, Ruinin' It

I’m one of those horrible Android users ruining your Instagram forever.
Publish date:
April 12, 2012
racism, Instagram, issues, photography, oh Internet never change, class war

I’m one of those horrible Android users ruining your Instagram forever.

And I have no regrets about this.

For those who have been under a rock, Instagram finally released an Android version last week, climbing to five million downloads within the first 10 days of release. Not coincidentally, the company also negotiated a big ticket sale to Facebook almost immediately thereafter; the popular hipster photo app is apparently worth one billion dollars1 to those cool kids at Facebook. Congratulations, Instagram! You made it to the big time.

Ridiculous cat pictures!

I’m less interested in the business technicalities of both the release and the deal, though they were undeniably good moves for Instagram, which desperately needed to expand past the iOS market if it wanted to gain a serious foothold and will benefit from the injection of cash provided by the Facebook deal.

What I’m interested in is how people have reacted to the deal: With an amazing amount of classism and a nice slice of racism as well.

“Instagram is ruined,” bemoan iPhone users, “now that those trashy Android people can get it too.”

One consequence of expanding to a new platform is the inevitable whining (link via Elon James White) about how a former niche product is rolled out to the masses. People very invested in being exclusive and having a private club lose out with deals like this, because suddenly everyone and their sister can -- and will -- have a product that used to be available to a select few only. That silly proletariat!

Unironic horses!

There are deep class assumptions embedded in the way people are talking about the Instagram rollout because of the huge class divisions between iOS and Android users. Android phones can be purchased relatively cheaply and are available with low-price plans and other pricing options. This is not the case with iOS, which tends to be more expensive and more exclusive.

Consequently, people of low to moderate income who own smartphones are more likely to have Android devices -- which means that screaming about how Instagram is moving onto Android is deeply classist, because it’s effectively a claim that poor people have no taste and don’t deserve equal access.

Generally speaking, Android users are less likely to be wealthy and also use phones differently than their iOS counterparts; in addition, iOS devices also come with a certain amount of class signaling which shouldn’t be discounted. Apps unique to them help reinforce a certain kind of taste (hat tip to Elon James again) arbited and promoted by fans as a way of distinguishing “us” and “them.”

The battle between Apple products and competitors is deep and entrenched, and also involves a heavy amount of socioeconomic disparity; it has to, when Apple products cost substantially more than equivalent competition and their users make a point of highlighting “sleek design” and other features they view as evidence of good taste and, well, “class.”

Airing my dirty laundry!

There’s also a racial element going on as well, because guess who’s most likely to use smartphones?

If you said “people of color, particularly Black and Latino populations,” have a cigar. People of color are adopting smartphones at a much more rapid rate, in addition to texting and talking more than white people, and taking advantage of social network sharing options. They are driving a digital revolution and cell carriers are well aware of it as they plunge into an unregulated market that is creating a new digital divide.

This means that the rollout of Instagram means there will be a jump in membership among people of color, resulting in, yes, a change in the kinds of images people are taking and how they use the app. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is a reflection of how expanding a company makes its products more useful to a wider population, who will find new and innovative ways to convert apps to their own uses and preferences.

Complaints about how this new population will “ruin” Instagram is a reminder that existing users are angry about having their toys taken away, and aren’t interested in interrogating the race and class issues behind their statements.

Self-involved photography!

When people make comments about how Instagram is “in the projects” now that Android users can access it, they’re whipping out a double-whammy of racism and classism to make their contempt for Android users clear.

Meanwhile, those same maligned users are out taking some amazing photographs of everything under the sun and a few things more besides -- because one thing that ubiquitous cell phone cameras have done is democratize photography and make it easier for people of low income to start exploring visual art.

And we all know what happens when you bring art to the masses.

So yeah. I’m ruining your Instagram. I take pictures with my Android device, I put fancy-schmancy little filters on them, I post them on my Twitter, I make far less than $200,000 a year, and you’re just going to have to deal with it.

1. Charles Arthur at The Guardian asks if this is “the end of the tech bubble.” Return.