Bubble Rap: Susie Lau isn’t ready to move to Instagram’s new video beat

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 (Susie Lau )
(Susie Lau )

‘Make Instagram Instagram again!’ That’s the headline that emerged this week as IG continues to shunt still photo feed posts to the back of the algorithm queue in favour of short form Reels videos. This is also coupled with IG’s increasing tendency to show you content from people you don’t know or follow in a bid for users to ‘discover’ new content. It all came to a head when Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian waded in and shared a much-memed statement by photographer Tati Bruening that reads, ‘Stop trying to be TikTok, I just want to see cute photos of my friends.’ In true Reels form, head of Instagram Adam Mosseri explained that video is what people are liking, sharing and engaging with, and while the platform will always support photos as they are part of IG’s ‘heritage’, the shift to video on the platform is inevitable.

If Kylie and Kim say it’s so then why, yes, we must surely listen! Now I wouldn’t normally expend words on the changes to a social media algorithm. Especially given that there are swathes of the real populace who haven’t detached their right hand and replaced it with a smartphone. For those who have reached the zenith state of being able to exist in a world beyond the clutches of Meta and other social media platforms – well done. But allow me to ruminate on the deeper effects of a TikTok-a-like IG and Mosseri’s statement that the shift to video is inevitable.

I’ve personally been resistant to TikTok – not because I don’t enjoy being a spectator and gorging on real-talk skits and 30-second recipe hacks, but rather it’s the acting aspect that makes my stomach lurch. You could say that the leap from a still outfit selfie to a video is not huge, but it’s all in that shift from standing still and holding a gaze to physical movement and injecting discernible expression that aids a narrative. When I look at my daughter Nico as she sassily flips her iPad to selfie mode, she doesn’t just smile in a static pose. She widens her eyes in cartoonish fashion. She flips her hair. She shifts her face from side to side in a way that mimics movements she’s seen on YouTube (where she learned what TikTok was).

I’ve personally been resistant to TikTok – it’s the acting aspect that makes my stomach lurch

These little movements take me back to cringing deeply in drama classes when asked to switch from looking angry to elated in an instant. I wasn’t brought up to even make direct eye contact, let alone look directly into a lens and smise in a captivating way. Last week, I was cajoled into making a cameo on a music video where my sole task was simply to roll my eyes at someone (which I’m perfectly adept at). But doing it on command with a video crew gawping at you made me wish the ground was swallowing me up.

TikTok advocates and users laud the platform for its realness and the fact that you can just BE and that Instagram promotes an unattainable, FaceTuned, doctored reality. But even just BEING takes some element of performance and of course the same warping/editing of reality can also apply to video. And just as we headed for colourful walls, photogenic backgrounds and fashion brand flex for engagement with our stills, video won’t be immune from the its own playbook of upping engagement. Except it will be in the story you tell, the narrative you spin, the japes and high jinks you DO and PERFORM. Seeing as Reels, TikToks and short sassy videos aren’t going anywhere, let’s return to Tumblr times and bring back the stereoscopic 3D image and GIF photos. Or let’s just stand still for a bit.

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