Among the many tropes of the "social media is ruining everything" think pieces is the one about how nobody really looks at photographs any more. I've certainly observed the appalling way that instagram is actually used: glance, swipe, glance, like, swimp, glance, swipe. I've probably written about it. God knows what dumb shit I said. God, and anyone willing to spend a minute or two searching, I guess.
It's certainly true that social media encourages a very very lightweight engagement with, well, everything on social media. People won't read an entire tweet, or Facebook post. They glance at photos. Videos play more or less unwatched.
But back to photography. There is a planted axiom in these think pieces on photography, which is that in the past people used to look closely at photographs. Usually there is some drivel about The Print, and how detailed it is, how a well made print "just glows" and so on. Half the time, at least, the piece is being written by someone too young and too hip to actually have ever held a decent print in their hand, although I dare say they've held a small number of shoddy ones.
There were no glory days when loads of people really looked at photographs.
What we have today is a billion times more engagement with photographs than ever before. All those people doing the glance-swipe thing on instagram? 20 years ago, 10 years ago, I can promise you that they were not sitting cross-legged on a bamboo mat with incense burning, making love with their eyes to a single glorious print. They were watching TV, playing some 2D video game, skateboarding, awkwardly trying to talk to girls, maybe fixing a car. They were doing anything except looking at photos. I was there. Nobody looked at photos, except a few weirdos.
It's a lot like today. Only a few weirdos really look at photographs. Perhaps a few more than 20 years ago.
Even in the glory days of the mightiest of the mass media photographers, Ansel Adams, when everyone who wanted to look a bit clever, a bit artsy, bought a poster of some Adams picture, I don't think the posters got all that much attention. Sure, you hung it up, and people glanced at it. It was recognized by people. Many people could probably even name the giant stone in the frame (probably "Half Dome" which is fairly easy to remember, since it looks like half of a dome.) But that poster in your dorm room didn't get a lick more attention than the picture of a waterfall you stick on your instagram.
One of the consequences of the modern era, in which everyone is a photographer is that now everyone has a mild interest in photography.
Rather than being a niche activity that a few people take very seriously, it is now a not-quite universal activity that almost everyone takes mostly unseriously.
This, of course, gets under the skin of those of us who still take it seriously.