6 or 15 Seconds? The Vine vs. Instagram Debate According to Torah Mathematics


Photo Credit: Techcrunch.com

By Yonatan Gordon

Typically, the similar product offerings between two companies need to be analyzed down a laundry list of details. So when we witnessed the release of the video version of Instagram last Thursday, we expected the lengthy comparison articles between Instagram and Vine to soon follow. But while there are important differences between both short-video platforms, what was most surprising is that the end result of all these articles, was that the distinction really came down to a choice over numbers. Which is a better length to share short videos, Vine’s 6 seconds, or Instagram’s 15? In the words of a recent CNET article, “Why Instagram video and Vine are apples and oranges”:

A Twitter spokesperson said that the Vine team settled on its format by testing “various video lengths, ranging from about four seconds to ten seconds, as they were building Vine. They found that six seconds was the ideal length, from both the production and consumption side.”

For its part, a Facebook spokesperson said that “Instagram is about capturing moments and we believe the constraints in place help create compelling and simple videos for everyone to consume in a mobile setting.”

Instagram in Motion

If we could sum up Facebook’s June 20th press conference about the new video Instagram, it would be “Instagram in Motion.” While these words were were said by Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, during the conference, we think that these three words really encapsulate their new video feature.

It used to be that we spoke about “Kodak moments,” but now we are more interested in turning these still moments (i.e. photographs), into short movies. The debate then is over which service better creates a string of moments? According to the CNET article, maybe the 6 seconds of Vine are better for stop-action videos (e.g. The Chemistry of Coffee), whereas Instagram’s 15 second videos may be better for capturing life experiences (e.g. Instagrammer on the other side of the world). But as we want to focus our discussion around numbers, we need to first see what the value of one “moment” is.

Quantifying Each Moment

Unlike the civil 60-second minutes, the Torah divides every minute into 18 (chai / חי, life) parts (chelek / חלק), and every part into 76 moments (regaim / רגעים). Thus, the length of every moment is approximately 1/23 of a second.

In our subjective experience, a moment relates to our ability to visualize a single instant in time. Indeed, for the human brain to register the projection of frames in a movie as a moving continuum, the frames must be projected faster than twenty-three frames per second. Persistence of vision blends the frames together, producing the illusion of a moving image. Accordingly, in Hebrew, a synonym for “moment” (רֶגַע) is “an eye-wink” (הֶרֶף עַיִן).

Vine’s 6 Seconds

6 seconds then is a tenth of a minute, 1.8 parts, or 136.8 moments. When rounded up to 137, we arrive at one of the most important numbers today. 137 equals the value of the word “Kabbalah” (קבלה), the inverse of the fine structure constant, and many other important phenomena in Torah.

Instagram’s 15 Seconds

15 seconds is a quarter of a minute, 4.5 parts, or 342 moments. 342 is numerically equal to the Hebrew word for “fragrance” (בֹּשֶׂם), also the ‘diamond’* (or double triangle △) form of 18 (which as we said above is “life” חי).  A part is a breath, and every breath has 4 fragrances (for each of the four stages of breath, as explained in the secret of breath, the Chedvah Breathing Meditation).

“Joy” (chedvah / חֶדוָה) itself also equals 23! So not only is each part a breath, but every moment (approximately 1/23 of a second, or 1/חֶדוָה) is also further encoded with chedvah. What this means is that not only should every breath or part be joyful, but every moment should reflect joy in the Creator as well.

A Moment in Life

The difference between 6 and 15 seconds, then can be summed up us as a difference in the way we experience life itself. Whereas Vine’s 6 seconds are better-suited for consecutive instant snapshots, Instagram encourages more continuous experiences.

The simple reason for why Vine is more fitting for still-motion videos, is because 137 is a dimensionless physical constant. “Dimensionless” constants are purely mathematical constants that don’t rely on experiment or empiricism. Anyone with a computer can calculate them to as many decimal places as they like. So while they are accurate glimpses of reality, they don’t change as do those equations based on empiricism.

What this means for us, is that even though a sequence of photographs can indeed depict reality, the depiction is dimensionless. Meaning, at the same time that we are seeing reality unfold before us, we can also appreciate the static or eternal truths behind what we are seeing.

Every Moment Counts

One Chassidic innovation regarding time is that in His great kindness, God reproduces creation at every moment. As the actors and the audience in God’s ongoing “movie,” things move too fast for us to note each individual frame and we experience creation as a continuous flow. If we could capture the space in-between the individual frames of life’s movie, we would discover the “nothingness” that lies hidden in the background and we could literally see creation coming into being at every moment.

Kabbalah teaches us that God created the world by first contracting His Infinite Light which completely filled the universe. However, Chassidut teaches us that the contraction of God’s light is not to be taken literally and the truth is that there are no dark spaces in-between frames.

Vine’s Still-Motion Videos

As we mentioned above from the CNET article, it is clear that people think that the 6 seconds of Vine is better for still-motion clips. The visibly apparent separation between frames then relates to the “discovering the nothingness” concept we just mentioned. As long as we see reality as one continuous reel (i.e. more than 23 frames per second), then we would never question whether there is some sort of “nothingness” between frames. The novelty of still-motion videos then is in the art of creating one continuous story, out of many seemingly distinct frames.

But more than showing that there is no dark-space or nothingness between frames, as we said above, still-motion videos also call attention to the “dimensionless constants” behind each moment. As long as we see reality as something continuous, then we could grow accustomed to basing our observations on the empiricism we uncover in day-to-day life. But if our study is of “still life” in motion, then our view of reality remains perpetually fresh and new. Just as creation itself is renewed at every moment, so too reality could be seen as one continuous “still motion” video.

Instagram’s Continuous Videos

Continuous videos, however, approach this still frame issue as a given. Now that we are working with more than 23 frames per second, what continuous experiences can we depict? More than focusing on sequential stills, the 15 second approach wants us to smell the “fragrance” (בֹּשֶׂם) of life itself. As we explained, this relates to the continuous joy experienced in each and every breath that we breathe.

*A type of figurate number. The nth diamond number can be found using the expression: ¯n = 2rn

Excerpted and freely adapted from “A Living Movie” on RabbiGinsburgh.com and a personal correspondence with Rabbi Ginsburgh. This article has not been reviewed or edited by Rabbi Ginsburgh. With help from “How Many Fundamental Constants Are There?


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