When the social networking site Facebook put in their staggering $1billion (€808m) bid for image sharing site Instagram back in April, one thing was clear: photos mean big business. Very little has been clear since of course, with speculation that Facebook only bought out the tiny team to dismantle the business, or the bid was simply to stall the startup until a rival in-house app could be developed. The Federal Trade Commission has even launched an investigation, with growing concerns that Mark Zuckerberg et al are planning an online photo monopoly.
Images are power, especially when they’re tied to our social experiences. My parents have an entire wall of their house dedicated to photo albums – claret bound leather and each hand-labelled. Just running a finger along the spines can take you from student days to skiing holidays to children’s birthdays. Crack the spines, often after a boozy Sunday lunch, and the pages are jam packed with well-thumbed photos that capture the whole process of building a family over three decades. Often in embarrassing detail.
How different is this to the kind of visual communication that Zuckerberg is buying into. Photo uploads on the site are frenetic and it’s estimated that in any 20-minute-period, three million photos might land on the site, attracting over 10 million comments. This is the narcissistic realm of the disposable image, a world away from the leather-bound analogue memories of an older generation. A recent poll even showed that a shocking 25 per cent of teenaged girls admitted to deliberately uploading unflattering images of their friends – engaging in visual warfare.
And what do these photos really mean? You can’t print them – the resolution is too low – and Facebook reserves the right to use, sell or delete them as they wish. If the site melted down tomorrow, millions of years of individual experience would be wiped in a blip.
What’s more – a younger generation knows this. Simply look at the surge in analogue media sales from the likes of Polaroid (via The Impossible Project) and Lomography. Look too to other media sectors such as vinyl, growing 40 per cent year-on-year, with innovators such as The Vinyl Factory breathing new life into the format.
The consensus seems to be that the disposable media model heralded by Facebook and its contemporaries is a hollow promise in many ways and for memories that matter – only physical will do, be that 80-year-olds or 18-year-olds. This leaves a sliver of a generation, people like myself born in the mid 1980s, who were perhaps too completely seduced by digital, fell through the gap, and are only just waking up to what this might mean.
Which might explain why I’ve dusted off my dad’s old Olympus OM-10, and will be happily snapping away this summer.