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kottke.org posts about Instagram

My social media fast

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2017

Last week (approx. May 7-14), I stopped using social media for an entire week. I logged out of all the sites and deleted the apps from my phone. I didn’t so much as peek at Instagram, which is, with Twitter and old-school Flickr, probably my favorite online service of all time. I used Twitter as minimally as I could, for work only.1 I didn’t check in anywhere on Swarm. No Facebook. As much as I could, I didn’t use my phone. I left it at home when I went to the grocery store. I didn’t play any games on it. I left it across the room when I went to bed and when I worked.

Many people have given up social media and written about it — the digital equivalent of the “Why I’m Leaving New York” essay — but since I didn’t write about leaving New York, I’m going to do this instead.

I used to be very good about using my phone and social media appropriately. More than a decade of working on kottke.org taught me how to not be online when I wasn’t working (for the most part). I tried super hard not to use my phone at all around my kids and if I was out with friends, my phone stayed in my pocket.2

Almost a year ago, after 13+ years in the city, I moved from lower Manhattan3 to rural Vermont. It’s beautiful here. I live in a house in the country surrounded by horse pasture and there’s great skiing in the winter. The nearest town is only five minutes away by car; it has a two-screen movie theater, a handful of restaurants (none of which are typically open after 10pm), two grocery stores, but nowhere to get a proper donut, sushi, or bowl of ramen. (The nearest ramen is an hour’s drive away.) While I was writing this post yesterday afternoon, the power in my house went out and didn’t come back on for three hours, forcing a delay in publication. It’s been difficult to meet people. Folks here are nice, but they mostly remind me of the people in the small town I grew up in (aka why I moved to the city in the first place). I work from home at a desk in my bedroom and some days, the only beings I’ll talk to are Siri, my landlord’s horses, and some days, my kids and their mom.

Social media, mostly through my phone, has been an important way for me to stay connected with friends and goings on in the wider world. But lately I’d noticed an obsessiveness, an addiction really, that I didn’t like once I became fully aware of it. When I wasn’t working, I was on my phone, refreshing Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook repeatedly in an endless series, like a little old lady at Caesar’s Palace working several slot machines at the same time. And I couldn’t stop it — my phone was in my hand even when I was trying to concentrate on my kids, watching a movie, or reading a book. So, I quit for a week to see what would happen. It’s not a super-long time period, but here’s what I noticed:

- Once I’d set my mind to it, it was pretty easy to go cold turkey. Perhaps my Twitter usage and keeping up with the news for kottke.org acted as a nicotine patch, but I don’t think so. Instagram was the toughest to stay away from, but I didn’t crack once.

- As the week went on, it was more and more evident that it wasn’t so much social media as the phone that was the problem. Even now, a few days after the conclusion of my experiment, I’m leaving my phone at home when I go out or across the room when I’m doing something. I’m going to try hard to keep this up.

- Buuuut, when you have kids, there is no such thing as giving up your phone. There’s always the potential call from their school or their mom or their doctor or another parent regarding a playdate or or or. I spend enough time online at my computer for work that I could mostly do without my phone, but with kids, that’s not really an option.

- Not a single person noticed that I had stopped using social media. (Not enough to tell me anyway.) Perhaps if it had been two weeks? For me, this reinforced that social media is actually not a good way to “stay connected with friends”. Social media aggregates interactions between loved ones so that you get industrialized communication rather than personal connection. No one really notices if a particular person goes missing because they’re just one interchangeable node in a network.

- My no-social week, for a variety of reasons, was probably the shittiest week I’d had in more than a year. Total emotional mess. Being off social media didn’t make it any better, but I doubt it made it worse. Overall, it was probably a good thing I wasn’t subjecting my friends and followers to self-subtweets and emo Instagram Stories…I was already scoring enough own goals without social media’s help.

- So, what did I do instead? I wish I could say that I had loads of extra free time that I used to learn Spanish, clean my house, catch up with old friends, cook delicious meals, and finish a couple work projects. Perhaps if shittiest week ever hadn’t been happening, I would have done some of that. Still, I did end up going to bed early every night, read a couple books, and had more time for work and dealing with kid drama.

After the week was up, I greedily checked in on Instagram and Facebook to see what I had missed. Nothing much, of course. Since then, I’ve been checking them a bit less. When I am on, I’ve been faving and commenting more in an attempt to be a little more active in connecting. I unfollowed some accounts I realized I didn’t care that much about and followed others I’ve been curious to check out. Swarm I check a lot less, about once a day — there was a lot of FOMO going on when I saw friends checked in at cool places in NYC or on vacations in Europe. And I’m only checking in when I go someplace novel, just to keep a log of where I’ve been…that’s always fun to look back on.

Mostly, I’ve resolved to use my phone less. Being on my phone was my fidget spinner…this thing that I would do when there was nothing else to do or that I would use to delay going to bed or delay getting out of bed in the morning. Going forward, I’m going to be more mindful about its use. If nothing else, my hands and thumbs might start feeling better.

  1. Yeah, I did not stop using Twitter. Ideally I would have, but Twitter is a huge source of information for this here website and I couldn’t afford to give it up without ditching work for a week, which I did not want to do because I wanted to maintain my normal schedule. But I didn’t look at Twitter on my phone, didn’t reply to or fave any tweets, muted some non-news/link accounts I follow, and limited my usage to “business hours”.

  1. Still one of my favorite tweets is from Scott Simpson: “My new standard of cool: when I’m hanging out with you, I never see your phone ever ever ever.”

  1. Haha, you’re getting a mini leaving NYC essay anyway. Suckers!

The Tinderization of the NBA

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2017

Since the late 1980s, the winning percentage of road teams has been rising in the NBA. After speaking to dozens of players, coaches, and team officials, Tom Haberstroh found a fairly accepted answer: “NBA players are sleeping more and drinking less”. Players are taking their careers more seriously and partying less on the road while transportation coordination has improved. Ubiquitous cameras and big sponsorships keep bad behavior in check. An additional factor is that with apps like Tinder and Instagram, companionship can be delivered to a player’s hotel room like Seamless or Postmates without the need to drink at the club for a few hours beforehand.

Indeed, various apps have done for sex in the NBA what Amazon has done for books. One no longer needs to leave home to find a party. The party now comes to you. And lifestyle judgments aside, the NBA road life is simply more efficient — and less taxing — when there aren’t open hours spent trolling clubs.

“It’s absolutely true that you get at least two hours more sleep getting laid on the road today versus 15 years ago,” says one former All-Star, who adds that players actually prefer Instagram to Tinder when away from home. “No schmoozing. No going out to the club. No having to get something to eat after the club but before the hotel.”

The NBA player staring at a 9:30 a.m. team breakfast in a hotel conference room the morning of the game can now log seven or eight hours of z’s and still enjoy a tryst. Thanks to direct messaging and texting, some NBA players even arrange to have keys left at the front desk so dates can be inside the room when a player arrives at the hotel.

As Haberstroh says further down in the article, “Partying is the midrange jumper of nightlife.” (via mr)

Erasing the nipple from Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2016

Note: if you’re browsing at work, there are photos below that are probably NSFW even though they are artistic and making a political point. The project itself suggests that the idea of NSFW is dumb, which makes me uncomfortable about calling it out like this, but you know, pragmatism…not everyone can afford to have a conversation with their boss about why viewing art during the workday is a good idea.

Posting photos of full frontal nudity on Instagram is against their terms of service.1 No nipples, no pubic hair and certainly no vaginas or penises. Butts are ok though because…I dunno, everyone has one? For a project entitled Busts, model and photographer Sasha Frolova took inspiration from Instagram removing one of her photos and took portraits of women and seamlessly erased their nipples.

Sasha Frolova

Sasha Frolova

The photo taken down from Instagram was the catalyst for this series. It was a black and white self-portrait I took exhausted in the bath after a panic attack at age 16. Releasing it was a coming to terms with the fact that I no longer feel so unstable. Because of that, having it removed was particularly violating. But more than anything though I was offended that all it takes is a pizza emoji over my discreetly revealed nipples to make the image appropriate. Is the implication then that a woman, simply in her own existence, and anatomy is inappropriate, vulgar?

If the goal of Instagram’s policy is to “protect” people from images of sexuality, Frolova’s project shows that they haven’t quite succeeded.2

  1. Meanwhile, you can find porn of every kind on Twitter.

  2. Also OK according to Instagram’s policies are photographs of male nipples, full frontal female nudity with nipples, public hair, and vaginas scratched out, female nipples behind see through clothing, and explicit illustrations of sex (for instance), all of which can be sexual in nature.

Instagram Stories on the web

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2016

VT sunset

Alec Garcia has built an extension for Chrome that lets you view the Instagram Stories of the people you follow. You can even save/download them.

BTW, I am really liking Instagram Stories. Yeah, sure, Snapchat rip-off blah blah blah,1 but Insta nailed the implementation and my network is already all there, so yeah. I’ve been posting occasional Stories, which you can see if you follow me on Instagram.

And yes, like Craig Mod, I use Instagram’s website many times a day. What percentage of their users even knows they can check Instagram on the web? 50%? 30%? 10%?

  1. The “Instagram ripped off Snapchat” narrative conveniently ignores that Snapchat has been praised in recent months for quickly backfilling functionality of services like Instagram. So, spare me your tiny violins.

18th century Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2016

A cute Ikea ad imagines what Instagram might have been like in the 18th century…it involves a painter and a lot of driving around in a carriage soliciting likes.

The unbearable lightness of being yourself on social media

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2016

From the NY Times, the excellent Jenna Wortham on How I Learned to Love Snapchat. This bit caught my eye:

Its entire aesthetic flies in the face of how most people behave on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — as if we’re waiting to be plucked from obscurity by a talent agent or model scout. But Snapchat isn’t the place where you go to be pretty. It’s the place where you go to be yourself, and that is made easy thanks to the app’s inbuilt ephemerality.

I wonder if Snapchat’s intimacy is entirely due to the ephemerality and lack of a “fave-based economy”. Blogs, Flickr, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram all started off as places to be yourself, but as they became more mainstream and their communities developed behavioral norms, the output became more crafted and refined. Users flooded in and optimized for what worked best on each platform. Blogs became more newsy and less personal, Flickr shifted toward professional-style photography, Vine got funnier, and Twitter’s users turned toward carefully crafted cultural commentary and link sharing. Editing worked its way in between the making and sharing steps. In 2013, Mat Honan wrote of Vine:

It built a ground up culture that feels loose, informal, and — frankly — really fucking weird. Moreover, most of what you see there feels very of-the-moment. Sure, there’s plenty of artistry that goes into making six second loops, and there are volumes of videos with high production values. But far more common are Vines that serve as windows into what people are doing right now.

Sounds familiar, right? I’m almost positive that when Instagram was first blowing up, similar things were written about it in comparison to Flickr. Now, as Wortham notes, Instagram is largely a place to put your heavily curated best foot forward. But scroll back through time on anyone’s Instagram and the photos get more personal and in-the-moment. Even Alice Gao’s immaculately crafted feed gets causal if you go back far enough.

Although more than a year older than Vine and fewer than two years younger than Instagram, Snapchat is a relatively young service that the mainstream is still discovering. It’ll be interesting to see if it can keep its be-yourself vibe or if users tending toward carefully constructing their output is just something that happens as a platform matures.

Giant thread screen is recreating Instagram photos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2015

F21 Thread Screen

Clothing retailer Forever 21 hired product and prototyping company Breakfast to build them a giant screen made out of spools of thread to “print” people’s Instagram photos. The screen, which Breakfast bills as “one of the most complex machines ever built for a brand”, weighs 2000 pounds, measures 11 ft high, 9 ft wide, and 3 ft deep, and has a resolution of 80x80 spool pixels. Here’s how they made it:

If you want to give it a try, just tag an Instagram photo with #F21ThreadScreen and it’ll print it out for you (watch the live stream). Prior art alert: the first time I remember seeing something like this was Daniel Rozin’s Wooden Mirror (1999) at ITP (video here).

Why did Facebook buy WhatsApp?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2014

I don’t know if Facebook buying WhatsApp for $16 billion is a good idea for Facebook or not, but I’m pretty sure it’s a potentially good idea. I’d heard of WhatsApp before, but I first took real notice of it last July when researching this post about Instagram businesses in Kuwait.

Several of the businesses I found used WhatsApp for messaging…browse via Instagram, arrange to buy via WhatsApp. Very low cost, more flexible than SMS, cross-platform, no giant social network appendage to deal with (e.g. Facebook/Twitter), and it’s not email. And, the thing that struck me, WhatsApp (and Instagram) being used for financial/business transactions. Services teens use for social grooming are certainly interesting and important (after all, teens’ social grooming is how, eventually, we end up with more teens), but when you’ve got something being used in all sorts of places all over the world as a social tool *and* a marketplace, you’ve got yourself a platform and that is potentially very valuable.

The Instagram cooking show

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2014

Fish Tales is billed as the world’s shortest cooking show. Episodes are about 15 seconds long and in each one, you learn how to cook a complete fish/seafood dish. Here’s the latest one, on cooking razor clams:

Kuwait’s booming Instagram economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2013

In Kuwait, people sell all sorts of stuff on Instagram, using the service as a visually oriented mobile storefront instead of using a web site or something like eBay. From an interview with artist/musician Fatima Al Qadiri:

BR: Kuwait is a crazy mix: a super-affluent country, yet basically a welfare state, though with a super neo-liberal consumer economy.

FQ: We consume vast amounts of everything. Instagram businesses are a big thing in Kuwait.

BR: What’s an Instagram business?

FQ: If you have an Instagram account, you can slap a price tag on anything, take a picture of it, and sell it. For instance, you could take this can of San Pellegrino, paint it pink, put a heart on it, call it yours, and declare it for sale. Even my grandmother has an Instagram business! She sells dried fruit. A friend’s cousin is selling weird potted plants that use Astroturf. People are creating, you know, hacked products.

I dug up a few examples: Manga Box is an Instagram storefront selling manga (contact via WhatsApp to buy), Sondos Makeup advertises makeup services (WhatsApp for appts.), sheeps_sell sells sheep, and store & more is an account selling women’s fashion items. There was even an Insta-Business Expo held in April about Instagram businesses.

The Entrepreneurship and Business Club of the American University of Kuwait is holding an “INSTA BUSINESS EXPO” which will consist of all your favorite and newest popular entrepreneurs that grew their businesses through Instagram. Not only that, there will be guest speakers by Entrepreneurs that made it through Instagram as well!

(via @cmchap)

The era of constant photography

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2013

Photographer Clayton Cubitt and Rex Sorgatz have both written essays about how photography is becoming something more than just standing in front of something and snapping a photo of it with a camera. Here’s Cubitt’s On the Constant Moment.

So the Decisive Moment itself was merely a form of performance art that the limits of technology forced photographers to engage in. One photographer. One lens. One camera. One angle. One moment. Once you miss it, it is gone forever. Future generations will lament all the decisive moments we lost to these limitations, just as we lament the absence of photographs from pre-photographic eras. But these limitations (the missed moments) were never central to what makes photography an art (the curation of time,) and as the evolution of technology created them, so too is it on the verge of liberating us from them.

And Sorgatz’s The Case of the Trombone and the Mysterious Disappearing Camera.

Photography was once an act of intent, the pushing of a button to record a moment. But photography is becoming an accident, the curatorial attention given to captured images.

Slightly different takes, but both are sniffing around the same issue: photography not as capturing a moment in realtime but sometime later, during the editing process. As I wrote a few years ago riffing on a Megan Fox photo shoot, I side more with Cubitt’s take:

As resolution rises & prices fall on video cameras and hard drive space, memory, and video editing capabilities increase on PCs, I suspect that in 5-10 years, photography will largely involve pointing video cameras at things and finding the best images in the editing phase. Professional photographers already take hundreds or thousands of shots during the course of a shoot like this, so it’s not such a huge shift for them. The photographer’s exact set of duties has always been malleable; the recent shift from film processing in the darkroom to the digital darkroom is only the most recent example.

What’s interesting about the hot video/photo mobile apps of the moment, Vine, Instagram, and Snapchat, is that, if you believe what Cubitt and Sorgatz are saying, they follow the more outdated definition of photography. You hold the camera in front of something, take a video or photo of that moment, and post it. If you missed it, it’s gone forever. What if these apps worked the other way around: you “take” the photo or video from footage previously (or even constantly) gathered by your phone?

To post something to Instagram, you have the app take 100 photos in 10-15 seconds and then select your photo by scrubbing through them to find the best moment. Same with Snapchat. Vine would work similarly…your phone takes 20-30 seconds of video and you use Vine’s already simple editing process to select your perfect six seconds. This is similar to one of my favorite technology-driven techniques from the past few years:

In order to get the jaw-dropping slow-motion footage of great white sharks jumping out of the ocean, the filmmakers for Planet Earth used a high-speed camera with continuous buffering…that is, the camera only kept a few seconds of video at a time and dumped the rest. When the shark jumped, the cameraman would push a button to save the buffer.

Only an after-the-fact camera is able to capture moments like great whites jumping out of the water:

And it would make it much easier to capture moments like your kid’s first steps, a friend’s quick smile, or a skateboarder’s ollie. I suspect that once somebody makes an easy-to-use and popular app that works this way, it will be difficult to go back to doing it the old way.

How blind people use Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2013

Tommy Edison shows how he uses Instagram on the iPhone.

So we’ll just take a picture of the crew. Why I’m holding the thing up to my face like I can look through the thing is beyond me, but here we go.

His Instagram feed is available here. (via ★precipice)

The 18th century version of Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2012

Popular in the 18th century, the Claude glass was a mirror that took the scene behind you and transformed it into something different, much like the filters in Instagram or Hipstamatic promise to do.

Claude glass

The Claude glass was a sort of early pocket lens without the camera and it was held aloft to observe a vista over one’s shoulder. The technology was simple: A blackened mirror reduced the tonal values of its reflected landscape, and a slightly convex shape pushed more scenery into a single focal point, reducing a larger vista into a tidy snapshot.

Facebook and Instagram as company towns

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2012

One of the more thought-provoking pieces on Instagram’s billion dollar sale to Facebook is Matt Webb’s Instagram as an island economy. In it, he thinks about Instagram as a closed economy:

What is the labour encoded in Instagram? It’s easy to see. Every “user” of Instagram is a worker. There are some people who produce photos — this is valuable, it means there is something for people to look it. There are some people who only produce comments or “likes,” the virtual society equivalent of apes picking lice off other apes. This is valuable, because people like recognition and are more likely to produce photos. All workers are also marketers — some highly effective and some not at all. And there’s a general intellect which has been developed, a kind of community expertise and teaching of this expertise to produce photographs which are good at producing the valuable, attractive likes and comments (i.e., photographs which are especially pretty and provocative), and a somewhat competitive culture to become a better marketer.

There are also the workers who build the factory — the behaviour-structuring instrument/forum which is Instagram itself, both its infrastructure and it’s “interface:” the production lines on the factory floor, and the factory store. However these workers are only playing a role. Really they are owners.

All of those workers (the factory workers) receive a wage. They have not organised, so the wage is low, but it’s there. It’s invisible.

Like all good producers, the workers are also consumers. They immediately spend their entire wage, and their wages is only good in Instagram-town. What they buy is the likes and comments of the photos they produce (what? You think it’s free? Of course it’s not free, it feels good so you have to pay for it. And you did, by being a producer), and access to the public spaces of Instagram-town to communicate with other consumers. It’s not the first time that factory workers have been housed in factory homes and spent their money in factory stores.

Although he doesn’t use the term explictly, Webb is talking about a company town. Interestingly, Paul Bausch used this term in reference to Facebook a few weeks ago in a discussion about blogging:

The whole idea of [blog] comments is based on the assumption that most people reading won’t have their own platform to respond with. So you need to provide some temporary shanty town for these folks to take up residence for a day or two. And then if you’re like Matt — hanging out in dozens of shanty towns — you need some sort of communication mechanism to tie them together. That sucks.

So what’s an alternative? Facebook is sort of the alternative right now: company town.

Back to Webb, he says that making actual money with Instagram will be easy:

I will say that it’s simple to make money out of Instagram. People are already producing and consuming, so it’s a small step to introduce the dollar into this.

I’m not so sure about this…it’s too easy for people to pick up and move out of Instagram-town for other virtual towns, thereby creating a ghost town and a massively devalued economy. After all, the same real-world economic forces that allowed a dozen people to build a billion dollar service in two years means a dozen other people can build someplace other than Instagram for people to hang out in, spending their virtual Other-town dollars.

Also worth a read on Facebook/Instagram: Paul Ford’s piece for New York Magazine.

Facebook, a company with a potential market cap worth five or six moon landings, is spending one of its many billions of dollars to buy Instagram, a tiny company dedicated to helping Thai beauty queens share photos of their fingernails. Many people have critical opinions on this subject, ranging from “this will ruin Instagram” to “$1 billion is too much.” And for many Instagram users it’s discomfiting to see a giant company they distrust purchase a tiny company they adore - like if Coldplay acquired Dirty Projectors, or a Gang of Four reunion was sponsored by Foxconn.

So what’s going on here?

First, to understand this deal it’s important to understand Facebook. Unfortunately everything about Facebook defies logic. In terms of user experience (insider jargon: “UX”), Facebook is like an NYPD police van crashing into an IKEA, forever - a chaotic mess of products designed to burrow into every facet of your life.

Instagram filters applied to famous photos

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2011

Mastergram takes photos from well-regarded photographers (Capa, Burtynksy, Weegee, etc.) and runs them through Instagram filters.

Capa Instagrammed

If the Instagram effect can make mundane images appear to be works of art, what happens when we apply the same filters to images that have historically been held in high regard? Is the imagery degraded or enhanced as a result?

The most important page on Flickr

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2011

The recent uploads by your contacts is the most important page on Flickr and it’s broken. Timoni West is a designer at Flickr and she wrote a brief post on that page’s problems.

The page fails on a fundamental level — it’s supposed to be where you find out what’s happened on Flickr while you were away. The current design, unfortunately, encourages random clicking, not informed exploration.

The page isn’t just outdated, it’s actively hurting Flickr, as members’ social graphs on the site become increasingly out of sync with real life. Old users forget to visit the site, new sign ups are never roped in, and Flickr, who increased member sign-ups substantially in 2010, will forego months of solid work when new members don’t come back.

Many of my friends have switched their photo activities to Instagram and, more recently, Mlkshk. And Flickr’s broken “what’s new from your friends” page is to blame. Both of those sites use a plain old one-page reverse-chronological view of your friends’ photos…just scroll back through to see what’s going on. The primary advantage of that view is that it tells a story. Ok, it’s a backwards story like Memento, but that kind of backwards story is one we’re increasingly adept at understanding. The Flickr recent uploads page doesn’t tell any stories.

As long as we’re talking about what’s wrong with Flickr — and the stories thing comes in here too — the site is attempting to occupy this weird middle ground in terms of how people use it. When Flickr first started, it was a social game around publishing photos. You uploaded photos to Flickr specifically to share them with friends and get a reaction out of them. As the service grew, Flickr became less of a place to do that and more of a place to put every single one of your photos, not just the ones you wanted friends to see. Flickr has become a shoebox under the bed instead of the door of the refrigerator or workplace bulletin board. And shoeboxes under beds aren’t so good for telling stories. A straight-up reverse-chron view of your friends’ recent photos probably wouldn’t even work on Flickr at this point…you don’t want all 150 photos from your aunt’s trip to Kansas City clogging up the works. Instagram and Mlkshk don’t have this problem as much, if at all. (via @buzz)