Do It For The Insta


To say the Oculus mall is nothing I have ever experienced is an understatement. While the architectural structure itself is stunning in its magnitude and design, the activity within the edifice was… peculiar. A bit off. People were sitting and idling on the pristine white marble floors as though the mall is perfect grounds for an impromptu picnic. A man was doing impressive handstands, albeit perhaps slightly unbefitting for its location. A lone, used ice-cream container was sitting by a bored security guard. And everyone — absolutely everyone — was taking picture after picture after picture. I, too, was contributing to the atmosphere with my massively unsubtle DSLR camera in hand.


What I imagine I looked like with my DSLR amongst everyone else with their phone-cameras.

This reminded me of a few summers ago, when my family and I were waiting to check into a hotel in Macau. Being a new construction, the hotel lobby was particularly, and unnecessarily, swanky — a sort of hybrid mall and hotel lobby meshed into one. In one corner of the hotel was a “light show” of sorts, where a fountain is illuminated with colored lights that changes in accordance to its corresponding soundtrack. It was certainly pretty, but it got boring very quickly. I remember wondering why people were so intent on filming these colored lights. Was it to capture an aesthetically pleasing moment in one’s vacation? Were people merely distracted by the lights? Or did people start filming because…

everyone around them was?

Upon walking into the Oculus, I was immediately inundated with light. It was an incredibly stark contrast to the dim, grimy Cortlandt Street subway station I walked out of. But almost as soon as the light refracted in my corneas, people around me were taking out their phones — swiping up for their camera app. It probably did not help that the architectural structure of the building itself — with observational decks jutting out on



of the building — encouraged these moments of disengaged spectacularity.

Brennan says delineates the “…“transmission of affect” [as] a process that is social in original but biological and physical in effect” (3). I believe this reactive, almost perfunctory, response to capture the Oculus on film is very much representative of the  “thing-power” of the edifice and its ecology — “the curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle” (Bennett 6). While the spectators are flooded with the material affect of the Oculus, the surrounding ecology (i.e., architectural catalysts, actions of people within the ecology) are also factors in the overall transmission of affect. Social psychology dictates the significance of conformity as a historically and evolutionarily-bound reactant. Brennan corroborates my observation with:

“The form of transmission whereby people become alike is a process whereby one person’s or one group’s nervous and hormonal systems are brought into alignment with another’s. Neurologists call the process “entrainment,” either chemical entrainment or electrical entrainment” (Brennan 9).

While her example specifically analyzes the affects of psychiatric patients on their respective doctors, I am applying the theory to a more transient, instantaneous transmission of conformity.

Again, I return to my aforementioned question: why do people feel the need to capture these seemingly subjectless monuments? Perhaps, unconsciously, we are seeking to capture and hold on to these moments of affective energies. With our selfies and family portraits against pretty lights or bold, architectural lines, we are blending the individual and the environment, quite literally.

And with a click of a button, “…we are [no longer] self-contained in terms of our energies. There is no secure distinction between the “individual” and the “environment” (Brennan 6).

Maybe, at our very core, we desire to be one with the very affect that prompts us to take the picture — for the Insta or elsewhere.


Works Cited

Brennan, Theresa. The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004. 1-23. Print.

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. London: Duke University Press, i – 38. Print.

~ by Joey on October 3, 2016.

One Response to “Do It For The Insta”

  1. Joey, I think this is a wonderful overall blog post, connecting the findings at your Oculus ecology reflect Brennan’s description of a “social and biological reaction” in the visitors. I have definitely been in spaces where I question the actions of individuals, especially in taking photographs, simply because there is some sort of mob mentality to do so. This sort of things I feel like happens more and more through the surge of visually-driven social media apps, more notably Instagram (great title by the way.) Great job on this. It really connected together the discourse with the ecology. – Nolan 😀

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