If a tree falls, and no one uploads a photo of it..

By Allison Kennedy, Social Media Strategist

I was reading a NY Times article recently about the digital lives of America children, in which author Lee Siegel talks about the shame he felt for not having his camera ready at his daughter’s birth.


As a former freelance photographer and Photojournalism student, I can empathize, since it’s been ingrained in me to capture every detail of a story to tell it accurately.  It seems as though that notion is catching on.  Just take a look at your facebook newsfeed and count the number of photos taken to document that truly epic sandwich, or last weekend’s party (from start to finish… and brunch the next day).

In a world where 6 billion photos are uploaded to facebook every month, and 92% of American children have an online presence before the age of 2, it begs the question – does the absence of a photo imply an experience never happened?

And do the moments that aren’t scrupulously documented lack in value compared to the ones that are?

I spoke with one of my former professors and fellow photographer, Andrew Mendelson about this trend, which he touches on in A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Networking Sites:

If photos are taken for the purpose of being displayed and tagged, does this render the experiences and the social relationships presented more real?

[…] These moments and the relationships become sanctified through their documentation.  They are deemed worthy of recording and preserving. 

Mendelson explains that the desire to document the everyday and banal has existed since the invention of the first Kodak in the late 1800s, and has only been amplified with the omnipresence of digital cameras and cameraphones.  We are now “freer to take pictures of every silly thing in ways we never would have documented” them before.  However, there are still “certain rituals that have always been required” to photograph, such as first birthdays and weddings; “you [are] somehow less human if you don’t take pictures of these things.”

On the surface, taking a photo of an event appears to put a wall between you and what’s happening.  In reality, Mendelson argues, it has become so second nature to hold your camera up that it is now part of the ritual.

Susan Sontag used her 1977 essay, On Photography to explain her theories on the traveler, and the compulsive need to take photos as a “friendly imitation of work” to feel less guilt about having fun:

A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it – by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.

[…]  It would not be wrong to speak of people having a compulsion to photograph: to turn experience into a way of seeing.  Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it.

If Mendelson and Sontag are correct and having an experience is synonymous with taking a photo of it, I have to wonder what portion of actual experiences are missed out on because we’re too concerned with adjusting camera settings in an effort to prove it happened.

Microtainment is just the right bite size

Britta Schell

Yesterday I was talking to an old friend of mine who is a blogger and editorial writer. We were commiserating over our decreased attention spans, looking for a reason why we could no longer sit through the twenty pound tomes we truly loved as teenagers. I quickly blamed my overflowing RSS feeds (research, I promise!) and 7 active email addresses (oy).

Enter microtainment. Little snippets of humor or farcical cultural commentary that are just what the doctor ordered for those suffering from RSS or inbox related malaise. The quickdraw platforms for sharing that have democratized communication (eg Twitter, Tumblr) serve as perfect stages for anyone who has a niche interest and 10 minutes a day to post. Fans can tune in daily or whenever they remember and enjoy a quick bite without having to engage too deeply or be too long removed from their many other nagging tasks and/or distractions.

Implications for brands could be very interesting. Will there be a day when a :30 YouTube clip is simply too long? Brevity has become increasingly important, of course, but what will we do if/when we have an audience who simply refuses to read more than a hundred characters about anything? This is already starting to happening in some groups. Branded or unbranded microtainment and partnerships with successful content creators (formerly known as writers…) are an interesting, and perhaps someday, necessary solution. I’m not advocating the current model of paying Kim Kardashian to tweet once or twice about her favorite XYZ product; instead let’s consider new ways of utilizing these dynamic channels to distribute creative content to consumers. Interestingly, many of the below have been signed for deals in more traditional media (TV, books) - a vote of confidence for both the content and the medium.

A few examples …

Twitter

@sh*mydadsays
Justin is an unemployed 29 year old who lives with his 74 year old dad. He tweets random things his dad says. They got a TV deal out of this (which, fingers crossed, I hope stays true to the handle).

Valleywags’s Celebrity Twitter Roundup
Snark machines from Gawker media sew together tweets from the likes of Courtney Love to Larry King with poetic results.

Photoblogs

Look at this F**g Hipster and variation Unhappy Hipsters
Everything your internal monologue is dying to scream out while walking in BBurg or the Mission.

My Parents Were Awesome

Sweet, user submitted photo scans of parents at their prime (mostly before you were born). Great fashion inspiration…

Slaughterhouse 90210
Quotes from haute literature meet bottom of the barrel network TV.

@schellular / britta AT strawberryfrog.com