COLUMN: Forging your identity through smartphones

Joanna Williams

I can be a dinosaur when it comes to keeping up with the newest gadgets and always seem to prefer the old stuff (I have promised never to use a Kindle and to always go with the paper books), but I do think it’s great that technology is moving at such a rapid pace to churn out so many new gadgets.

Yet, I can’t hop on the trend that whatever gadget you own somehow determines how much you can afford and to a certain extent, your class distinction and identity.

I never considered the latter to be such a fine line when it came to today’s gadgets, but the response to Tuesday’s release of Instagram and other phone apps reveal that I was wrong.

For those who don’t know, Instagram is a photo editing app, and a pretty good one, too. You can take a picture of nearly anything and after a nice sepia tint and Walden background, you got yourself with pictures that could make you look like a professional.

Since its release, it was only available for iPhone users, and if you had anything resembling a social networking account than you saw Instagram everywhere. Recently, Instagram decided to release the app to Android users, and an uprising comparable to the rapture ensued.

The general consensus from users on Twitter and commenters on websites that wrote articles was: “Why? What do Android users have anything to take pictures of?” and “Instagram used to be a country club, now it’s just a club in the country.”

At first I thought the response was funny and showed the trivial side of today’s consumerism, but as I kept reading more on the response to the release, I was once again wrong. I assume the stereotype of many iPhone users is that they think they are some privileged group with a phone not many people can afford, and that notion makes them better than most Android users who can buy a smartphone at a variety of budget-friendly places. In short, iPhone users are hip and classy and Android users are tacky and broke.

I don’t know where this high-brow elitism many iPhone users have comes from, but since it’s associated with many Apple products, I guess it goes with the ‘brand’ mentality some people take up. This goes beyond people being attached to their phones — it goes into the realm of how people use their phones, just like clothes and cars, as another form to perpetuate classism. Someone argued with me the other day that it’s not simply about the app coming to Android phones, but that it’s the app becoming more mainstream, and when things become more mainstream, they lose “awesomeness.”

My rebuttal is still, so?

I don’t want to live in a society where people are determining how hip they are because of the phone they use. And while it’s nice to think the-comparing-yourself-to-everyone-else complex ended in high school, Instagram’s release to Android shows how petty young adults and full-grown adults can be. Even worse is that it’s over an app, of all things.

While this “Instagram war” is embedded in first world privilege (how fortunate are we that we can even engage in a debate about what smartphone we are able to buy?), we need to look at the more important things. And Instagram and all of its awesomeness just isn’t it.