Saturday, June 22, 2013


There's this new mode of communication going on this last, I don't know, let's say decade. In it, people simply say stuff, and shove it into the void for other people to maybe read or not. Blogs are certainly a part of this, so you'd think I'd understand it better than I do, wouldn't you?

More obvious examples are things like twitter. An active twitter stream is frequently an unending stream of more or less unrelated short remarks. Updates with factual information about what the writer is doing, updates with some thought that has just passed through the writer's head, and so on. It's not clear to me that this has any analogue prior to the web, but there is just so much of it going on that it seems to be a natural thing. For some reason, people get positive feedback from doing it, because they keep at it.

The important property, here, of a twitter stream, or a blog, or many other things of that ilk is that they are largely write only. There is not much expectation that people will read it, and if they do read it, they will read each item once. A person reading a tweet may or may not respond to it. Responses available include trivialities such as a Like button, a +1 button, and a re-tweet button. Most responses actually given seem to be a one-click equivalent to "I like this".

It's less weighty even than an idle conversation, since there is frequently no flow from one sentence to the next, there is no notion, frequently, that we are talking about something.

Photography seems to be taking the same road. People make pictures and "share" them in essentially the same way. The expectation is that nobody, including the photographer, will look at these things more than once. Most people, even most of the photographer's social network friends, will not even look at them once. Responses, if any, will mostly be single click events.

The purposes of these pictures, like tweets, are all over the place. I am here. I am drinking a latte and here it is. Look, I saw this flower. Here is my girlfriend. A train. A bus. Clouds.

It seems to be some urge to create little things and throw them out to the universe.

Are we trying to communicate with one another? Is this just a form of excretion? Are we worshipping something we cannot define in some new way we do not recognize?

Whatever it is, this speaks to the new ephemerality of photographs. They are, first and foremost, things we make in an instant and spin out into the void, where they are swallowed up and vanish. They are balloons we set free, sometimes with a hopeful note attached to the string, more often not.

That sure is different from the world Susan Sontag was writing about in the 1970s.

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