When we use apps that imitate physical media, what exactly are we letting ourselves lose in the process? During our editorial head-to-head in the wake of Facebook's $1 billion Instagram acquisition, Chris Ziegler and Dieter Bohn squared off about whether the photo-filtering service's social merits outweigh its conceptual flaws. But their discussion about digitally-doctored smartphone photography didn't address a key shortcoming of the platform that goes beyond aesthetics and authenticity: no matter how accurately a digital process is able to mimic the results of a non-digital one, the thing that will always be missing from software like Instagram is danger: the possibility of complete and utter failure.

The kind of "failure" I'm talking about isn't the kind that can be easily avoided with proper skill and experience – it's the kind that is intrinsic to the medium in question. In instant photography, failure isn't simply about the unfortunate "yellowing" of visual documents, the artificial application of which Ziegler uses as the crux of his argument against Instagram. Failure is the harrowing and beautiful possibility that exists when an individual engages in a process that is in some significant way outside of his or her control.