Facebook bought Instagram on Monday for one buh-buh-billion dollars, a tectonic lurch in the realm of social media, and what does this have to do with the real world, the chaotic world that surrounds us, not the orderly one that is contained in the tininess of our smartphone screens?
Nothing. Or everything.
Given the volume of reaction to the acquisition, one's mind jumps to BP absorbing the dregs of Standard Oil, or Consolidated Edison gobbling up any number of smaller gas and electric companies. Forget the Carnegies and Rockefellers, those titans of utility. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram's Kevin Systrom are our titans of futility, and their marketplace is the shadow world in which we delight at the expense of our time and productivity.
That hive mind has hemmed and hawed about the over-widgeted Facebook infecting the clean-and-simple Instagram, but the services are made for each other. They deserve to be together. They are both tools with which we define and refine our self-images, and they both allow us to edit and filter the world as we see fit.
Your grandmother's been on Facebook for years now, and the novelty has long ago worn off for the social-networking service's 483 million daily active users. But, at 18 months old and with 30 million-plus users, Instagram is a newer animal. Its users take photos with their smartphones, choose artsy filters to burnish the images and post the doctored products to a stream in which one's followers can react with "likes" or comments.
There is good art and bad art, fact and fiction, and Instagram falls somewhere in between, and that territory has now been ceded to Facebook's kingdom.
Just as Instagram makes bad photos look good and good photos look great, Facebook makes you look happy and loved if you're not, and joyous and adored if you are. Self-brand and share. Filter and share. Share the edited stuff, the varnished stuff, the stuff with the halo around it. Take a step away from truth for the sake of beauty.
So what does the Facebook-Instagram marriage mean for our world, the world outside our phones, the one that's filtered only by our corneas and presented unsorted, unblocked and at random?
Nothing. Or everything. It's a conundrum that can only be sidestepped by invoking Keats. Beauty. Truth. One and the same. Extrapolate this to the social media, and accept that fake beauty can be real truth.
So let's raise our smartphones to the union of Instagram and Facebook. May their matrimony keep us in perpetual, artful light.
(In Exclusive Partnership with The Washington Post)