by Jaymi Heimbuch,

Instagram has been all over the news lately, first for finally opening up the app to Android users earlier this month, and then more recently for being sold to Facebook for $1 billion (billion, with a B… gulp).

If you haven’t heard of Instagram then that’s some sound-proof rock you’re living under. Not only are the creators of Instagram rolling in the dough, but a lot of other people are trying, and succeeding, in getting a piece of the pie. But not from the digital version of the images; no, from the old-fashioned prints and accessories.

Digital photo sharing should free us from material items, with all of our images on the web for anyone to access as long as they have a device with a screen that can access the Internet. But that’s not what’s happening. From Stitchagram to to lenses and accessories for our iPhones (and now Android-powered smart phones too), this digital photo sharing service is leading enthusiasts to be as materialistic as ever. And maybe this is proving that it’s just who we are as a species, no matter the new tech we have.

Insta-Products for Instagrams

It’s certainly not odd to want to print out photos, even in this day of digitized media. While we don’t have to print every exposure on a roll of film like we did just a few years ago, we still like to see prints of some of our favorites. It’s no different with Instagram images, and companies have popped up left and right to do this for you — Printstagram, Snapstagram, CanvasPop, TeenyTile, Stickygram, Artflakes… the list goes on.

You might have noticed that some of the folks you follow on Instagram have launched an gallery where you can order their Instagram photos printed on canvas. It’s not enough to just touch that “Like” button but we have to be able to get physical versions of our favorite images too. It’s rather appealing for amateur photographers to have a way to make a little money with their Instagram art, or at least get an ego boost. Or is it just for amateurs? Could these galleries be something that serious artists and photographers will set up as well?

You don’t have to set up a gallery to sell stuff — there are lots of ways to make physical copies of your online images. Here are quilt-style pillows from Stitchagram with your Instagram photos printed on it. Do I want one? Why yes, yes I do. Very much thanks. I have a series of Instagram photos from a road trip that would make an awesome pillow, or maybe a pillow made of my Instagram diary from Midway Atoll.

See?!? In about 2.5 seconds I’m sucked in and planning on the three, four, five pillows that would be fun to order and maybe the six people on my Christmas list who might like one. And why? For no good reason other than “because I like it.”

I’m already a sucker for Postagram, an app that sends your Instagram image as a physical postcard to whomever you want. I’ve snapped images of myself on vacations, spun them through Instagram, and sent family postcards with the images that get to them within the week — without ever having to pick out a tacky post card from a tourist souvenir stand or go to a post office. (I know, that’s part of the fun, but so is a personalized postcard.)

Sure, I could have emailed them the photo or let them just check out my Instagram stream and see it for themselves, but I admit to partaking in the the carbon footprint of paper, ink, printing and transportation of postcards. Again, for no good reason other than “because I like it.”

It’s Not Just The Prints, But The Cameras Too

The digitization of our world is even less a reality when we think about how snap-happy we’ve become with our camera phones. The iPhone already morphed in to a high tech version of a Holga and with the ever improving camera quality, it is morphing into a version of a DSLR.

So, it is no wonder that lens accessories are available to turn your iPhone’s lens into a fisheye, macro or telephoto. Lay another $35 down and you have better zoom. It’s more stuff for your stuff. What was a catch-all device now has devices to specialize it.

This isn’t to knock iPhoneography. Indeed I happily take part in seeing what I can capture with my iPhone instead of a bulky DSLR. And it accomplishes some pretty awesome images if your luck holds:

Admitting Our Materialism

I document my life with my iPhone and Instagram as much as the next person. But the rise of iPhones and other camera phones as our digital cameras, and the rise in popularity of an app like Instagram calls into question the degree of our consumerism. Where we should be reducing our consumption of gadgets thanks to the quality, capabilities, and multifunctionality of today’s devices, we are instead finding new ways to make material items for both what the devices create and what we think they should be able to create. We are never letting go of printed images or better lenses, or better camera phones for that matter. We’re just expanding on what we already have. As usual.

When it comes down to it, we have to admit that we are materialistic and no amount of digitization is going to keep us from wanting physical things in this world. Come up with a killer app that needs little more than some servers and camera phones, and soon there are people latching on with bright ideas for how to make your pieces of data into physical objects like stickers and magnets and shadowboxes. Or come up with a device that puts all your books, magazines and DVDs into one thin tablet and suddenly there are loads of accessories for carrying it, propping it up, adding keyboards, improving the speakers and on and on.

We are fighting an evolutionary urge to own stuff in the same way we fight the evolutionary urge to eat fats and sweets. It is an up-hill battle, if not an impossible one.

Not-So-Instant Lessons from Instagram

Chris is right when he writes that the purchase of Instagram was about emotion and storytelling, and that the environmental movement can learn from this to improve our own storytelling. Indeed, I tell my personal story every day via Instagram, and have even told the story of endangered species through the filters in this app. In reality, if it weren’t for Instagram — with its simple sharing platform and deeply passionate community of users — I probably wouldn’t really use my iPhone’s camera at all as it is more a means by which to get photos on to Instagram as easily as possible.

The storytelling lesson is there, and we are paying attention. But will the environmental movement be able to hitch on to the lessons being taught by the off-shoot businesses of Instagram-mania? No amount of organic cotton for those pillows or natural inks for those postcards will change the fact that we are still finding ways to consume stuff and more stuff, even in the face of our ability to digitize so much of our media.

That, unfortunately, is not something we can slap a filter over and call it done, but rather something we need to address…and fast.

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