It's probably been written about so many times that these articles are actually tailing off. I am pretty sure I have taken a swing at it a time or two myself, and probably said some dumb things.
As everyone knows, a billion or a trillion or a godzillion photos are uploaded to the internet every minute or day or year or something. So many photographs. It must mean something, it must have some impact! Usually people say that it's causing us to devalue photographs in some sense, because we are so very very awash in them.
Except, here is the interesting thing. We are not awash in these pictures. Depending on your habits, you might see 10, 100, maybe 1000 of these photos uploaded by the phone-waving unwashed masses. A billion photos are uploaded, but you are not looking at a billion photographs. One photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge gets viewed a billion times. Your photograph of a cat is viewed 10 times. A billion photos of cats has, from the consumption side, the same weight as 10 photographs of Kate.
My personal consumption of photographs is, like everyone else, almost entirely mainstream media: ads, entertainment, news. These are thrust at me a dozen at a time, every few seconds that I spend online. Only when I go to social media do I see anything from the much-talked-up billions, and then at a remarkably slower rate. Even a devoted instagram-scroller is consuming a 1 photo every couple of seconds. At 10 hours a day, this insane slob is consuming 18,000 photos from the billions.
Flip through a print magazine, and you'll get, I dunno, a couple hundred pictures. Flip through a news web site, at this very moment there are something like 60 photos on the front page of cnn.com. If you're like me, you're seeing a few thousand photos a day. Mostly mainstream media, a few Serious Photographs (I usually have a photo book or something lying around for a bit of a read for a few minutes here and there during the day), and a few hundred of the social-media photo storm. If you broke every phone camera on earth at this very second, my consumption of photographs tomorrow would remain numerically much the same, and probably a little bit more pleasant.
No, the substantive change is not on the consumption side. There is no "devaluing" of photographs because we're exposed to so many of them. There isn't even any substantial extra exposure to photos.
The substantive change is on the production side. It is not that we look at more pictures, but that we take more pictures. In the 1970s there were sold a few million cameras a year. There might have been in 1980, I dunno, if we're generous, 100 million people with the capacity to take a photograph, or about 1 person in 50 on earth, about 2%. Now there are something like 70% of all humans own a cell phone, which means that not only can they take a photograph, they can probably upload it to somewhere. Even if we restrict ourselves to active Facebook users, it's something like 25% of the world's population.
It feels like the change from 2% photographers to 25% photographers is a lot more significant than a change from seeing 2000 photos to seeing 2200 photos per day.
What does that mean, though? Something to ponder.