The variety of colors on our smartphone screens pop like candy. As advertiser Bruce Barton wrote in his 1925 book In The Man Nobody Knows, “The brilliant plumage of the bird is color advertising addressed to the emotions.”
We tap into Instagram, scroll through a few photos, and return to the home screen to bounce off to other apps. And then we repeat the process again in a mindless fashion.
After a while, we start to lose all conscious brain power. We fly between apps like we’re hitting buttons at the casino. The variable rewards keep us spinning in a ludic loop. Technology undermines our attention by bombarding our senses with a surfeit of stimuli that lights up like a Christmas tree.
Turn it gray. That’s right: we need to dull our screens to bore our senses. Turning the phone grayscale doesn’t make it dumb, it just makes it less attractive. Writes Nellie Bowles in the New York Times:
I’m not a different person all of a sudden, but I feel more in control of my phone, which now looks like a tool rather than a toy. If I unlock it to write an email, I’m a little less likely to forget the goal and tap on Instagram. If I’m waiting in line for coffee, this gray slab is not as delightful a distraction as it once was.
If you want to remember a vacation, you’re almost better off framing a picture rather than just posting it on your Instagram feed.
According to recent research, owning a physical photo is more likely to encourage someone to share their experience with others. It turns out that digital images are terrible cues.
“Back in the old days, we’d wait until we finished a roll of film and then bring it to the store to get printed. So waiting for the pictures kept the experience top of mind. Then, we’d take the pictures around to our friends one by one (or group by group) and get to share our experience over and over again. Now, we simply post it on social media once and we’re done.”
However, it’s not all digital media’s fault. It’s also our dwindling attention spans driven by the urge to consume what’s next. To echo Om Malik in a recent New Yorker piece: “We have come to a point in society where we are all taking too many photos and spending very little time looking at them.”
Apps like Timehop and Facebook’s “One year ago today” feature attempt to revitalize old posts to conjure up past memories. I personally recommend reviewing “On this Day” in Day One journal, not just for vacation recall but also to gain perspective on all life’s milestones, ups, and downs.
Whether it’s in the form of a framed photo, a souvenir, or relived Facebook post, you can extend any fond memory with subtle reminders.
A strange kind of progress permeates our world. While technology advances, privacy seems to take two steps back. Social media exploits openness.
While bitcoin promises to disrupt the financial industry to give power to individuals, it smells of chaos and distrust.
Perhaps the new world order takes getting used to. After all, it is habit that puts one to sleep. But also consider that those obsessed with solutionism — innovating on top of old world problems — can do more harm than good. For instance, Facebook is an around the clock newspaper that misinforms its users every day. A culture of fast-food consumption and ‘breaking news’ outpaces reality, slipping us into inanition.
Problem-solving technologies are bicycles for the mind. However, moving at warp-speed while ignoring the status quo puts our cognition into more fragile territory than ever. Unchecked change is the root of psychological damage.
In its never-ending endeavor to augment mobile photography and enhance digital art, VSCO added Borders to its app today.
The new feature allows VSCO X users to frame their images with 17 different color options. You can see some of my first efforts below.
Social platforms are casinos, and likes, replies, comments, shares, etc. are the poker chips. We are addicted to social currency on top of our psychological desire to solve for loneliness.
The main reason I blog is to get away from the hyper-activeness and dopamine-hitting fast food of social media, so I can slow down and gather my thoughts.
How often do you get stuck in the ludic loop?
We are obsessed with the first-person because we live in a culture that emphasizes the individual. The selfie generation makes “I” the predominant jargon for almost everything we post on social media and talk about in real life.
Me-ness has shrouded our ability to step outside the self and see the world objectively. It’s not all about us. We view ourselves in the reflection of other people. The looking glass self is external. Writes Adam Price in defense of third person.
It worries me that we may be slowly losing the cultural ability or inclination to tell stories in third person. Why does this matter? Because, I believe, third-person narration is the greatest artistic tool humans have devised to tell the story of what it means to be human.
Our inner-narrative predicts how we’ll act in real life. It controls the outer stage of actions. As narrators, we can be more thoughtful of how to talk to about ourselves despite the egotism reinforced by the dizzying pace of status updates. We find deeper meaning when we can see and express a world bigger than ourselves.
We constantly divide our attention between the first- and third-person points of view, between desiring the shiny object in front of us and figuring out what it means for us to take it: who else wants it, what we have to do to get it, and whether it’s worth taking it from them.
But then everybody’s images started looking the same. The Instagram feed looked like a giant pile of sameness where anyone could be a photographer and upload a beautiful picture.
Snapchat then ushered in the video game and all of a sudden, copycats followed. Facebook’s algorithm started to favor video. Instagram introduced Stories and Live. People could share their thoughts without a keyboard.
But if there’s anything Twitter shows us, words matter more than ever. The US president and the ‘rocket man’ tease nuclear war. While images and video are propaganda, it is words that beget action; they are volatile, easily copy-pasted and bent into echo chambers to paint fraudulent stories of intent.
If we want to awe someone, we choose static and moving images. But if we ‘re going to poke someone, we select text.
Words are game changers. Not only do they provide context to an empty visual, but they also control the inner-narrative that ultimately influences external decisions. Choose them with care.
There is a photograph coming at you every few seconds, and hype is the lingua franca. It has become hard to stand still, wrapped in the glory of a single image, as the original viewers of old paintings used to do. The flood of images has increased our access to wonders and at the same time lessened our sense of wonder. We live in inescapable surfeit.
— Teju Cole, from ‘Finders Keepers’ in Known and Strange Things
We look at things twice, once in reality and then with our third eye, the mobile phone.
We take photos to remember, literally cut and paste the external world into our devices to be stored as bits of data.
While an image can be reproduced to infinity, its lifespan is ephemeral. We collect moments wherever go only to be consumed and quickly forgotten.
Images spill into our cameras and out into a vapid Instagram wall while the viewer drowns in abundance, no match for the chaos.
The newest app, the latest iPhone — we make an excuse to spend more time with our smartphones. What can be perceived as self-absorption is also hypnosis, as the phone’s rectangular glow grips us into a ludic loop.
Social networks intend to get us out of a trance and sting us into experiencing the world; at least that’s what Instagram and Pinterest promised to do at their inception. Instead, our phones have our first, second, and third eye, recording memories so we can consume and forget about them again later. We are walking zombies, skilled without an iota of consciousness.
The smartphone is an arsenal of distraction, a computer, tv, stereo, and communications device propping up the thumbs of our hands. But it’s also the most liberating tool we’ve ever had. Used wisely, we can shape it to goad our curiosity, make new friends, and explore our creative instincts.
It was a mass of niches. In many ways, it still is a collection of echo chambers.
But the web feels smaller today than it used to. The big fish seem to drown out the rest of the noise. Tv is the web, the web is tv, constructed for the masses.
Meanwhile, the same-looking images reappear on Instagram: food porn, selfies, and sunsets, leaving scant room for variation. Perspective is hard to find.
Those with a unique point of view get lost in the shuffle, discarded idiosyncrasies of the Internet-factory era. The only difference now is that people can market to the micro. You only need 1,000 true fans to build a business out of the long-tail!
Nevertheless, the web appears to be a less human and little more robotic. It is predictable and stale, sameness portends scale!
What is the dark web if we can’t even see through the light?
Social networks are specifically designed to keep us hooked as long as possible. No matter how aware we are of the entrapment, the exit door never tempts us enough to permanently leave.
Yet we ‘users’ are literally the ones being used and tracked so big brother can sell our data to advertisers. We permit cookies to follow our behavior all over the web, from shopping to googling health related issues.
While the internet offers us a marketplace of ideas, instead we find ourselves collecting resources and stealing other people’s opinions to reconfirm our own.
Rather than tapping into a common goodness of those who disagree with us, we pat the backs and converse with those who serve us their boilerplate bullshit.
Stuck in boxes, spied on and taxed, it’s no wonder the internet makes us so antsy we can’t get along. Writer Noah Smith puts it best: “15 years ago, the internet was an escape from the real world. Now, the real world is an escape from the internet.”
Social networks are unique places. They are no different than hangout spots; the bar and the coffee shop each contains its own set of memes and culture. However, using the same language from one into the other could make you look like a tourist.
“One user’s home platform is another’s foreign land. A point made by a subculture at home on Facebook might look funny to another on Twitter, which can read as evidence of a conspiracy to yet another on YouTube, which might be seen as offensive on Tumblr, which could be a joke on Reddit.”
Knowing the ins and outs of each channel comes with frequent use. And while most sharing is trial and error — virality is mostly luck — replicating content between environments is a bound to fall flat. Posting a witty tweet makes no sense in the feed of a Facebook friend who’s looking for something with sticky emotional value.
Good social media contributors are tweakers. They tailor a message to each network to maximize engagement, down to the file type. They may upload an image to Instagram but a similar video version to Facebook and Twitter, and a GIF for Reddit.
Social media is still the Wild West. You must pick and choose an audience carefully or risk being misunderstood, which happens to most people anyway, even on their own turf.
In the age of Instagram, images are fodder for boredom. Scrolling fills time, inspiring an emotion and quick dopamine shot for the same time the viewer consumes it. And then we shift back to reality, looking at the world like running images on a wall.
Photography tempts the eyeballs to glance but when will it do something other than staring at its contents.