Going ‘Wow!’ a thousand miles away

Going ‘Wow!’ a thousand miles away

After worrying tongue in cheek about the loss of experiential awareness due to photo filter apps and Social Media months ago, I followed the rabbit trail only recently.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this.

When I first installed Instagram, a part of me died, I have to admit. But despite all the hipster concerns of mass popularity i.e. android and being bought by Mr Zuck, I was pleasantly surprised.

Mobile Communities Work

The term ‘vibrant community’ is achingly overused, but Instagram seems to actually be one. Despite the absolute simplicity (or because?) there’s a lot of activity. People are shooting and sharing, tagging and liking as if there was no tomorrow.

The magic, as pointed out by a friend, seems to be in the tags. It’s what lets you break out of the narrow walls of your ‘social circles’. Facebook wants us to connect only to ‘real’ friends, on Twitter many of us follow people we don’t know, and Google+…let’s not talk about it. Instagram however seems to give the awkward business of connecting to strangers on the Internet a new taste.

I’m not interested in strategic reasons why Zuck bought the company (native fb photo app?) or why photographing your meals and pets is an utter waste of time (it probably is).

Instead, I am intrigued by the simplicity of communicating with visuals. Being a writer by trade, profession and training (more about this further down) I enjoy the ambiguity, the grammarlessness of sending pictures out into the ether and filtering incoming streams of visuals in real time.

Turning Professions Into Games

Apparently there are hordes of self described professional photographers on Instagram but interestingly the most appealing content seems to be produced by happy amateurs, part time snappers and pocket paparazzi.

Browsing through the profiles and photos I found two things:

1. The tool doesn’t determine the outcome

You can give a million people the same camera, they will all come up with completely different images, even if you give them the same subject. While there are those still stuck in the MySpace era mirror shot, the endless food and pet documentaries or polishing of self image, there are some really great pictures out there. What makes them great are not the handful of measly retro filters but a certain simplicity of sight, by the way.

2. Perceiving oneself as a ‘maker’ has nothing to do with making stuff (e.g. photos)

Since the early days of Social Media the self promoter is a very common sight, and as usual, he’s also the most boring. On the other hand anyone with a mobile phone can make and share something that makes someone a thousand miles away go ‘wow’ in a bedroom, train station or supermarket queue.

By making and sharing, a person can improve their craft, gain feedback, encouragement, and quite possibly become a lot better a lot more dynamically than by simply following lectures or predetermined rules and regulations.

What’s true for photos is the same for music, writing and many other fields. The Internet is probably the greatest educational tool that humanity has ever had for interest-based learning.

Instead of spending decades in isolated laboratories learning the ‘craft’ we have already replaced textbooks with Trial and Error, making stuff while learning how to make better stuff. We have become accustomed to the linear sequencing of theory and practice, where the former precedes the latter. And while it’s certainly not true for all professions (please know where my appendix is before you cut it out, young doctors) theory and practice might actually be a lot closer than we thought.