Kevin Systrom, who co-founded Instagram in 2010 and sold it to Facebook for $1 billion less than two years later, stunned the technology world today by turning a Facebook press event into a poetry reading.
Entitled “Video on Instagram,” Systrom’s poem ostensibly heralds a new social-media tool, one that enables users to shoot, edit, and share 15-second movies with their mobile phone. Beneath the surface, however, Systrom is using the conceit of a product launch to plumb the roiling psychocultural forces at work in our tech-fetishizing zeitgeist.
Epic in scope, the full work is too long to reprint here, and he read it too fast for accurate transcription. But like Kerouac at the Six Gallery, I soaked it in as he spoke—pausing only occasionally to yell “Go! Go! Go!”—and have done my best to faithfully capture for posterity the key passages. I’ve reprinted them below in a form loosely approximating a double sestina. See how Systrom deftly juxtaposes the ephemeral jargon of his milieu with deceptively simple bromides about the human condition to conjure, undermine, and ultimately embrace the techno-utopian ethos. It’s a postmodern masterstroke.
Video on Instagram
By Kevin Systrom*
One of the most amazing things about humans
Is our ability to create tools
Things like language, books—photography.
However long life is, or however short, we know:
We may never get that moment back.
Instagram is a tool
Meaningful moments, everyday moments.
We might look back at these moments
From time to time, and remember them.
Instagram is a way to stay connected.
It’s the power of an image—concepts, ideas
That move the world forward.
A place to be inspired by the boundaries that we thought existed
It’s a place for laughter—(I love this slide!)—
To enjoy the simple things in life.
It’s our collective belief that the world is better off captured
And shared more permanently. That’s what Instagram is.
You see, Instagram is
No single thing. Our mission is to capture
And share the world’s moments. We live that
Every single day we come to work.
Sixteen billion photos
Have been shared on Instagram.
That’s a lot of pictures of coffee. And there’s some other stuff, too—
Tons of engagement.
One hundred thirty million users per month: These are people
Just like you and me.
Now we should discuss where we’re going.
What’s next? What do we work on?
We’ve taken photos
And made them beautiful. Sitting in front of a whiteboard,
Two entrepreneurs, not knowing
What to do.
We decided that we needed to do something new.
The one part that we brought was photos
But we left video on the side.
Why is that?
Speed, simplicity, beauty.
I’ve got some really special stuff in store.
Instagram hasn’t changed. What we’ve done
Is make Instagram better.
Let’s say we were at Blue Bottle coffee in the city. And we wanted
To record a moment there.
All you have to do
Is hold down that button.
You can capture a lot in 15 seconds. Fifteen seconds
Of beautiful video.
Not all of the time can you fit a single scene into 15 seconds.
You know what? His hand’s in the way.
And that’s not good.
Here we are with a beautiful finished latte.
Let’s focus on the latte itself.
I click “next,” and this is where it gets exciting.
Thirteen custom filters—this is really special.
I really like the look of this latte.
We love naming our filters.
All the details are right.
Fifteen seconds of beautiful video,
Clip by clip. Everyone in the world
Can see what you’re trying to show them.
Android as well.
No more pointing people
At the mobile app.
I remember that beautiful sunset. I remember
That beautiful time with my friends.
But it’s all shaky and wobbly,
And doesn’t look that great.
That’s not what we all want.
We can do better.
And we did better:
We call it Cinema.
This changes everything.
*Edited and condensed by Will Oremus