The artform of traditional film photography has shriveled up like a raisin. The dark room has been boarded up. Iconic camera companies are vanishing like misty apparitions. And still, there has never been a better time for pictures.
We are visual creatures. No surprise here. We consciously created an ocularcentric culture, carefully crafted for our eyes. This innate over-reliance on sight has elevated the importance of imagery in our storytelling. In art. In advertising. In everything. As German philosopher Martin Heidegger famously asserted “the fundamental event of the modern age is the conquest of the world as a picture.”
The real magic of the moment is that the digital toolbox has finally caught up to these primal needs and desires. Easy-to-access, easy-to-use and easy-to-share technology has injected an aphrodisiac into our eye sockets. The result is a visually vibrant world with a seemingly infinite stockpile of images to look at.
This is why we shouldn’t be so surprised when an intuitive, image-based mobile app like Instagram receives over 1.3 million uploads a day, 15 uploads every second and 3,000 new users every hour. Or why Pinterest, a social site devoted to posting pictorial “pins”, becomes the fastest independent website in history to hit 10 million U.S. monthly unique visitors. This also explains why Facebook’s algorithmic EdgeRank system prioritizes pictures ahead of textual content in news feeds: people are attracted to images. Plain and simple.
It’s not so much the introduction of any particular app or new social network that created this systematic shift. Rather, it’s the interconnected system that all of these tools create. It is all very social and sharable, very much simplified and streamlined. Now, virtually anyone can be Ansel Adams, virtually of course. Pull out your phone. Throw on a filter. Post it. Pin it. Tweet it. Watch it become famous, online.
The greatest part of it all is a phenomenon Clive Thompson coined as the Instagram effect: the idea that this new wave of commonplace paparazzo will inspire millions of everyday people to reexamine the way they look at everyday occurences, albeit through a sepia-toned smartphone screen. Still, it is providing a creative outlet for people who had never before considered themselves creative. All of a sudden, they become more curious, more aware, more imaginative. It’s sort of zen-like. Sort of encouraging. And entirely awesome.