Episode 234: Schrödinger’s Instagram

The Overthinkers tackle Instagram, memory, and mash-up culture.

Peter Fenzel and Matthew Wrather overthink Instagram, our compulsive digital documentation of our lives, the moral imperative of memory, and what all these mean for creativity and art.


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8 Comments on “Episode 234: Schrödinger’s Instagram”

  1. Emil #

    So, what’s your account on Instagram, Pete?

    Also: I like how Matt keeps referring to act of recording video as “video taping”, I wonder how long we’re going to use it in common language, we stopped “coping tapes” ages ago.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      My instagram is @fenzelian, same as my twitter.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      I suspect it has to do less with the actual technology and more with the fact that “tape” is a very satisfying and easy word to say: It’s short and has two plosives.

      What are the alternatives? “Video recording”? “Video Capturing”? Tongue twisters by contrast.


  2. Lee OTI Staff #

    Are you guys saying you both don’t have any sort of curated digital photo collection at all? Not even a folder with a bunch of JPEGs?

    I realize I’m probably in the small minority of people who very carefully curates a photo collection (and yes, I am “that guy” who whips out the vacation photo album when people come over), but you guys make it sound like the trend in photo collections is just to have online services like Facebook/Instagram swallow them up into their data streams, where they’re eventually swept up-river and forgotten about.

    This may be the case, but I wanted to see if I was reading both your personal habits and your broader assertions correctly.

    (P.S. I too am on Instagram, but I don’t use it too frequently. @goestotwelve. I have 11 photos going back to August 2011.)


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      I just recently turned on the feature of Dropbox that pulls in the photos when I plug in a camera. I turned OFF iPhoto, because it’s slow and clunky and my computer (the computer on which I’ve developed websites since before Overthinking It) is more than six years old.

      Having a flat file of jpegs is fine. I miss things like the cool map overlay you could get in iPhoto which would use all the geocoding data from your phone’s pictures to show you where they were taken. And the facial recognition was uncanny. Plus, the jpegs in Dropbox are named IMG_0000 and so on, so you can’t really search for one.

      But the problem for me with using iPhoto for albums was the middle step. I occasionally have the urge to take a picture, and occasionally have the urge to inflict my pictures on friends. But the middle step — transferring, organizing, rotating, curating — that’s just paperwork.


  3. robertsharp #

    Thanks for this episode guys. I think the observation that “a picture of a party” becomes a pop cultural moment, is a very interesting one. You meant it in the sense of sheer quantity of party pictures taken and shared. But I think the particular ‘genre’ of Facebook photos is very amusing.

    The way in which people ‘pose’ for ostensibly candid photos has always fascinated me. The girlfriend of an old friend of mine always gives a massive smile and peace ‘V’ with her fingers for every photo, but she is otherwise glum faced. Her Facebook stream conveys a crazy, always partying hipster… which is an entirely false and (I think) consciously curated facade.

    In reality, photo albums have never been private – there was always a chance you would show your friends pictures of your vacations. But the sense that your holiday or party photos are a part of your semi-public face has implications for what we choose to capture and share.

    This is why photobombing is so funny. In the foreground you have one or more people, posing for an ‘impromptu’ photograph which conveys who was there and the fun that was had. Meanwhile, the photobomber confounds this, by adding, first, a *genuine* impromptu element to the photo, and second, by adding an extra person to the history and memories of the event who was not there in reality. You mentioned ‘Stalining’ (i.e. erasing someone from a photograph) at the top of the podcast. Well, photobombing is the opposite of ‘Stalining’, adding someone to an image who wasn’t part of the memory in the first place.


  4. Gab #

    When it comes to mashups, I find it really interesting how they sometimes (though not always- more often than not, in my experience) facilitate somewhat polarized reactions: Either, YEAH, LOVE IT! or AGH NO IT’S TERRIBLE! I have a few friends that produce their own, and I find the ones I enjoy more go where you were saying, Fenzel, in that they not only go for beat, baseline, etc., but also theme and meaning (either by matching or going for opposites in an ironic swing).

    Can we relate this to sampling at all? Eh, I’m going to anyway. Sampling often does the same thing. Like Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” for example- he samples “I Got a Woman” (Ray Charles), a song about a woman that gives her man a lot of money (“I got a woman/ way over town that’s good to me/ she gives me money when I’m in need”), whereas Kanye’s song is about the exact opposite, about a woman that uses her men for cash. Now, you could get really pissed that Kanye, a dude whose music tends to be viscerally misogynistic, sampled Ray, a guy whose music was mostly feel-good, or at least respectful of women when they were the subject at-hand. Or one could praise Kanye for the clever turning-on-its-head of a classic and the usurpation of meaning and redefining of relationships when money plays an important role in the pairing.

    Anyhoo, Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk) has a pretty interesting philosophy about his mashups, which, again, goes for more than just beat and baseline. I can’t remember precisely how he worded it, but to paraphrase a conversation I had with him once (he was visiting my college, I was in charge of hospitality), he tries to combine both similarity and difference to create his own moments of meaning and significance; usually by drawing out emotions that end up the same, either by starting in a similar place, or not but eventually converging in unexpected ways. He cares more about the sum total of the layers he’s going after and what that makes, which is why there are moments with five or more songs being sampled at once, versus others where only one to three are present. And what I find most fascinating is he approaches this emotional aspect in a very scientific, methodical and procedural fashion (engineering degree, after all)- so he’s being scientific in order to achieve emotive ends.

    And to bring it all back together, I think the mashups I like the most do that. They don’t have to make “sense,” but if they “feel” right, I can get into them.

    I don’t have an Instagram, so no comment there. ;p


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