Eventually, all our graves go unattended.

This is going to sound grim, but eventually, all our graves go unattended.
— Conan O'Brien

That quote comes from this interview with Conan O’Brien that was just published in the New York Times this week. If you’re a Conan O’Brien fan, as I am, I invite you to go read it. It’s an interesting piece, providing a unique outlook on his ever-changing career and his thoughts about that. That quote was part of an answer to a question about whether it bothers him that the footprint of his show might get smaller and smaller as he gets older. His response was really that it ultimately doesn’t matter how big we think we are or how we go out, as eventually we’ll all be long forgotten. Even if you’re important enough to make history books, no one’s going to be thinking about you with emotional reverence after you’ve been gone a generation or two. Even then, you’ll just be factoid, a footnote. For most of us, we won’t even have that much.

This idea has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about our obsession with publishing personal content online ever since the introduction of the web 2.0. It started with simple blogs, like this one, then advanced to social media, etc. We’re obsessed with unloading our minds onto the Internet, whether it’s sharing visual art like photography, paintings, etc.; our thoughts via blog posts or spouting opinions on social media, etc.; or increasingly posting videos of ourselves on YouTube and the like. Why? Why are we relentlessly posting rants on Twitter or Facebook, pics on Instagram or Flickr, videos on YouTube or Vimeo (or FB/IG/Twitter), blog posts on a variety of platforms, etc.?

I think it’s because we all feel a need to be heard, to be relevant. Beyond that, I think we subconsciously are seeking longevity beyond our short lifespans. Facebook now has an option for memorializing your account after you die, ostensibly so loved ones can gather on your profile and reminisce about how great you were. Your online immortality will only last so long, though, as back to my point in the first paragraph, once your close friends and family members have gotten over their grief, how often are they really going to keep coming back to your page? And once they, too, die off, no one will; so your account might still be online, but no one will be viewing it. You’re gone.

Without going too far into focusing on specific venues, though - whether they be online or physical - why do we have such a need to be externally validated anyway? Using myself as an example, both my photography and my writing have both had fairly narrow niches of people who follow and appreciate them. The amount of interaction I get on any given post - whether it’s a blog post here, a posting on Twitter, or pics to Instagram - is pretty damn small, so why do still feel the need to post them, to chase down those few likes/comments I get? For instance, here I’ve already rambled on for over four paragraphs, yet looking at the stats on my website, I know that literally no one is likely to see this. That’s right: no one. I know because my website stats show me that: even after I post fresh content, I get no visitors. Now, if I share this article to Twitter or something, I might get a few hits, but that’s it. And I do have a couple dozen RSS subscribers, so I may or may not be getting eyeballs there that don’t register on my website stats. Still, it’s a very small number and not growing, so why do I feel compelled? Why do any of us feel compelled? Because honestly, the same question really applies to the person that has a million followers as much as it does to the person that has two…

So lately I’ve found myself then thinking: if I knew for a fact that one one was going to view my photography or read my words, etc., would I still do it? What if I didn’t even share my work anywhere in the first place, so the only person that ever saw it was me? Would I still do it? If not, why not? And if so, what am I doing it for?

This then leads to the age-old question: is it art if no one sees it? I’m sure most of you have heard of Vivian Maier by now; if you haven’t, Google her and prepare to be amazed (if you appreciate street photography). Vivian was a woman who worked as a nanny for most of her adult life, but in her spare time she took countless street photographs with her trusty twin-reflex camera. However, she never developed them! So she never even saw most of her own work! The only reason we know about her today is because some guy in Chicago bought boxes full of her undeveloped rolls of film from a storage auction shortly before her death. He had them developed, printed, and exhibited, and the rest is history. She’s now regarded as one of the best street photographers of the 20th century; I have a book of her work on my photography bookshelf. She never once sought recognition for her work herself, though. She was content in the capturing of the photo; never felt a need to produce it for others to see. So what if those rolls of undeveloped film had never been discovered and shared with the world? Would it still be art? If it hadn’t been discovered and shared, we’d have no idea who Vivian Maier is today. A lifelong single and reclusive woman with no children of her own, she would have faded from memory for all but her closest charges rather quickly. Without the art, the artist is quickly forgotten, and all the much sooner that grave goes unattended.

Cheers,
R

"Don't do it for the likes!"

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, November 2015

Follow any well-known, influential photographers on social media long enough, and eventually you’ll hear them trot out the old trope, “Don’t post your photos on social media just to get likes!” Without fail, every one of the people who utters these cliche words will have thousands upon thousands of followers and get hundreds or thousands of likes per post. I think their underlying intent is well-meaning, in that they’re really just saying not to get discouraged if you don’t get a ton of likes or comments early on. Keep working, and hopefully it will come. However, the larger message as-is, is patently false and hypocritical. If getting that interaction didn’t really matter, they wouldn’t be posting on social media themselves. I mean, think about it: no one shares their art anywhere - whether that be online via social media, at a local art fair, or on the wall at the neighborhood coffee shop - without hopes that those viewing it will like it. Otherwise, why would we share it? Everyone wants their art to be appreciated. And after all, what’s the point of expressing ourselves through art if no one witnesses the expression?

So, I think the message needs to be amended: go ahead and do it for the likes, but don’t be discouraged if a ton of them doesn’t come early on; and also, be more concerned with who’s doing the liking as opposed to how many are doing the liking. For instance, take the photo above… I could have edited that in a brighter, more colorful way that would have appealed to a wider set of people and gotten more likes and comment praise, but that wouldn’t have been staying true to my vision, so it’s much better to get the smaller handful of likes from the people with shared taste that get my vision. Ultimately, those likes mean more, as I didn’t have to sell myself out to get them.

All that said, get off social media - it’s wasting your time. ;-P If you must, though, go ahead and do it for the likes.

Cheers,
R

A Life Wasted

So I’ve decided to take a bit of a complete social media break. I’ve already had my Facebook account deactivated a while, and through December I’d been taking time away from Twitter. For January, I decided to add Instagram into the mix. I knew this was going to be a tough last step, as, being a a photographer, Instagram is the one I enjoy using the most (even despite my various gripes with the platform that I’ve blogged about recently). Essentially off social media entirely now (at least the platforms that dominated my time), I’ve come to some conclusions already in just the first handful of days…

  1. I wasted more time than I thought on social media! It’s amazing how many times I’ll pick up my phone/tablet, or login to my PC, etc., only to then discover I don’t know what I really want to do, why I got online in the first place. If it’s later in the day, especially, I’ve already gone through all my news sites, so there’s not much I have to catch up on there. That’s when I’d realize that most of the time in the past, I’d get online and just start checking Instagam, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

  2. We use our phones mostly for social media. The smartphone is truly a wonderful tool, and allows us to do a lot. What I’ve been finding, though, is that - related to #1 above - oft times we pull those things out of our pocket to just mindlessly scroll through social media whenever we’re bored. Now that I’m not using those apps all the time, once I’ve caught up on news, there’s not often a lot of use for it. As such, my battery life has skyrocketed, as I don’t have apps open, draining the battery, all the time anymore.

  3. These social media platforms truly are addicting. It’s amazing how often I have that impulse to open one of those apps/sites to start browsing, post a picture or my opinion about some nonsense, etc. It’s like a crack addict reaching for that pipe, but it’s no longer there….

Will I stay off all social media long term? I don’t know yet. Probably not. However, I definitely plan on curtailing my use and how I use it. I’m not sure what my path forward with Twitter is… I got back on for a couple days as December closed out, and I was taken aback at how negative the environment is there. It was nothing different than it’s always been, but having been away from it for a month, I really noticed it now. I promptly got back off, as I just didn’t find it enjoyable now. Maybe I’m done with it; I don’t know. Either that, or perhaps I just need to change whom I follow to craft a more positive, uplifting experience there. Being that it’s really just a time waster, though, I’m not sure if it’s really worth that effort.

I recently got back on Facebook just briefly for the sole purpose of deleting all my past content on there. The reasons for that are beyond the scope of this post, but just let me tell you, it was a real eye opener, seeing how much crap I’ve posted on there over the years. The first year or two weren’t bad, and the last couple years weren’t too bad, as I deactivated for long periods during them, but those middle years…. Thousands upon thousands of status updates, comments, likes, etc. - it was insane! I had an automated script plugin doing a lot of the deletions for me, just leaving me to do manual clean-up on what it couldn’t catch, and it still took me about NINE days to delete it all! Just think about all that time I must have been wasting on it over the years! I think I’m pretty much done for good on that platform now. The only reason I deactivate instead of doing a full delete is so that I can keep my FB Messenger contacts, as that’s my only (or at last most convenient) contact point for some people.

Cheers,
R

Insta-Advertisements

If you click on the image above, you’ll be taken to an article by The Guardian, entitled “How Instagram hides behind Facebook – and rakes in billions”. I encourage you to go read it. Instagram has been given a free pass for a long time, credited as being so different from its parent company, Facebook. However, since FB has been taking a more active role in the management, the changes to the app have been very noticeable. For one, and perhaps the most annoying, is how FB applied its feed algorithms to the Instagram timeline, so now, like on Facebook, you don’t see posts in your feed in simple reverse chronological order, but instead based on what FB think you should see, what they deem to be most popular and right for you. I have IG friends that I used to see posts from and interact with often now just completely absent from my feed; I have to go specifically visit their page to see their most recent content. To borrow a phrase from the Brits, that’s complete bollocks!

And then there’s this little gem:

”Few people, however, realize that 20% of the content they consume on Instagram (or Facebook, for that matter) is sponsored. “

Umm, I noticed! Good god, I don’t know how anyone couldn’t notice - it literally is 20% of the content now. It’s not just the feed anymore, either, but also every 4th or 5th post in the Stories timeline. It’s pretty sickening.

It might seem like I’m suddenly coming down hard on Instagram with these last couple of posts, but that’s only because I always found it to actually be a great application and community, and ever since Facebook took it over and started getting their claws into it, they’re turning it into the same annoying monster that Facebook itself is. It’s really a shame to be losing that viable alternative.

Cheers,
R

Insta-Bullshit

So I stumbled upon this article on The Guardian’s website this evening, published a few weeks ago, and it really illustrates what a cancer social media has become, how phony it’s making people. You see pics like this on Instagram and other social media sites all the time: that truly inspirational photo of the account holder standing/sitting all alone on some majestic peak or outcropping like this, the kind that makes you think, “Wow, they’re so lucky! That looks so beautiful! And such magical solitude! I wish my life were like that!” Look at the Twitter pics linked in that article, though - behind that solitary facade is a line of dozens of people waiting to snap their own version of the lie. Click through to the actual post over on Twitter, and you’ll see many similar situations in other locations shared in the commments. It’s really quite sad.

And it appears all this Instagram fakery isn’t exactly helping its users’ happiness…. So why do we do it?

Cheers,
R