Mass Mind Control and the homogenizing nature of the web.

A thousand shrill voices screaming the same pseudo-fact doesn't make it so.

I've been pondering what I think is an interesting question lately:  "What comes after the web?"

Imagine a time in the not too distant future when everyone is on the web all the time.  All the messages become diluted to the point that the content will come to resemble distilled water.  I read in Ad Age Online yesterday that big companies like the Gap and Nordstroms and many, many more national retailers rushed to establish pages on Facebook in the last year and a half only to pull the plug on their pages in short order.

The big retailers found that the audiences were enthralled with the narcissism of talking about themselves but there was very little attention bandwidth to actually listen to messages from anyone else. The clicking of the "like" button was little more than a grudging quid pro quo designed to cement a listening (reading) audience with the promise of, "you read my crap about little Johnny and his soccer game and I'll pretend to read and be interested in your stuff as well."

Might work in the dynamic of personal relationships where there's no hard currency at stake but it's hardly the foundation of success for a mass marketer.  And the numbers bore this out.  Hence the wholesale exodus of retailers from facebook.  (The big guys, with a constant eye on the metrics, went first, it will take a little longer for the smaller businesses to "get it" and move along...).

In my estimation the web is now functioning in bifurcated manner.  On one hand it is a portal for companies with products and services to sell.  They see the web as a target for online press releases (and isn't that exactly what the launch of a new camera or car is?).  They see their websites as a virtual rack upon which they've arrayed their product sheets, their spec sheets.  And they do it because it's as cheap as free.  But car dealers and car makers learned something important when they tried to herd us all to the web for more information.  They learned that when people come into their showrooms to shop for cars they are intent on leaving with a printed, color brochure of the product of interest.  They're not asking for an iPad download or a link to a 360 VR walk through.  They want/demand a paper and ink souvenir of their visit and the brochure will have an efficient effect on their ultimate buying decision.

On the other hand the web is performing a function as free entertainment for people who are addicted to meaningless information.

I have an analogy for the landscape of the web in which mature product segments exist. (And sites about photography exist, in the final accounting, in order to sell product.  The endless discussions and reviews are part of the marketing that drives the endless sale cycle.)  The analogy is of a very, very large room with very acoustically  bright walls, a hard ceiling and a concrete floor.  The room started out nearly empty in the old days.  A few people congregated to talk about gear and art.  But soon the room filled up and continues to fill up.  The volume of the discourse is so loud (everyone talks at once) and so intense that no one can really hear anymore.  It's become noise.  The signal's been lost.  It only takes a few conversational bullies to drown out an area of the room.

But here's the logical disconnect:  There are hundreds and hundreds of products in every category.  In cameras the catalog ranges from little plastic cameras that still take film and off no controls to massive, medium format cameras which cost more that nice cars.  And every camera purchased generates a little electron of loyalty that orbits around the nucleus of that product's atom.  If the atom is stable and attractive it continues to generate new atoms and eventually the products become a molecular construct.

And to combat post cognitive dissonance every atom finds a rationale for undying loyalty.  To the point where they are able to believe that the unique assemblage of features, benefits, swtiches and sensors is the perfect formula for photography as they know it.  Once the logic chain is locked anything else becomes, to their minds, indefensible.  The inertia is breathtaking.  How else to explain the Nikon Pro's loyalty during the dreaded D2x years when they could look across the atomic chart and see all the Canon atoms revolving around a full frame nucleus?  How else to explain the rabid defense of the new Olympus OM-D which has been annoited "god-like" among small format cameras even though its launch is more than two months away?  Allegiances form around myth.  Myth drives wedges into discussions.  Religions form.  And pretty soon the value of discourse dwindles away.

I've come to believe that the web is a wire rack, filled with pretty product brochures.  We wanted the paper ones but the manufactures like the idea that they don't have to print and ship the pretty, paper products, or pay for them.  I've come to believe that the web is like cable TV from the 1990's.  Thousands upon thousands (millions upon millions) of "channels" but nothing worth watching.  I've come to believe that reality changes as the sheer quantity of people confront a reality they don't want to believe and select an alternate reality that may not be as "mathematically" rigorous but which is more comfortable.  And finally,  the web is the paradigm of public access TV writ large.  Lots of people in sweat pants with lots of crazy opinions.

The question is not, "What to look at on the web?" The real question is, "Should we be wasting our time on the web at all?"

What does the next model look like?  Look to the things that haven't changed.  Galleries still exist because people want to see what art really looks like, not just a simulacrum of the art.  Photowalks exist because people long for real groups to belong to.  Books still exist because the joy of reading them hasn't been extinguished by "opinion content" on the web.  People still go to the movies, I think, largely because movie critique, Pauline Kael, was correct;  there's something scary and fun about sitting in a large room, in the dark with a bunch of strangers,  sharing an experience.  Stores still exist because people want to touch products and weigh their actual appeal.  They want to experience, first hand, what the electron affinity is for them.  People still kiss other real people because there's nothing at all like that experience on the web.  And people still go out to eat because it's performance art in which they can actively participate.  An art that wouldn't exist without a non-virtual audience.

This blog is sometimes a substitute for coming to grips with what you really should be doing.  It's fun to read what I say about products or inspiration or even love.  But like everything else on the web it's just one string of constructed reality wedged into a ball of string that's parsecs wide.  People come here to nod in agreement, smug in the feeling that we're part of a special atom.  Others come here prepared to hoist the flag of their own allegiance and to try and capture ours.

But the signal to noise is growing to the point where the web will become nothing more than the SEAR'S catalog of your generation.  And the cool people will move on to what's next.  And what's next is all the stuff that's tried and true.  All the stuff that we've been doing for decades, both before and during the ascendency of the web.  Follow the things that do not change.  That's where reality exists.

Content trumps everything.  Technique trumps technology.  Technology makes things easier and sometimes quicker but not necessarily better.  Resources are limited.  You give up hard won experience every time you abandon one tool for a newer one.  And in the end the only thing that matters is how the work of art works.

Not every professional photographer needs a waterproof camera.  Not every photographer needs LED lights just because someone wrote a book about them.  Not every photographer needs a new camera.  And I'd say that the vast majority of photographers would be better off walking away from the constant, and ulitimately destructive, feedback loop of the web and re-engaging with non-virtual life.

I'm going out into real life today and listening and watching and smiling and looking.  It's different than looking at Tumblr or 500px.  It's real.

Come to grips with what life would be like without the web.  Start today.


  1. Nuff Said. Out (until your next post)

  2. Recently relatives of mine who have discovered things like Pinterest and the Twitter thing have been calling on me to Pin them, Like them, retweet them, ad nauseum. It's getting tiring. I wrote my own post today on the newest wave in social media. I've already heard back from one of them and they just don't understand what's wrong with me. Oh, woe is me. Where's my camera? I'm going out for the day.

    Link here which you are free to edit out of you want. - Libby


  3. I held an Australian tree frog yesterday. I did not see it on 500px or flickr; I studied how it's padded feet climbed my arm, my hands to the very tip of fingers and then sat there and looked at me. Then it pee'd on me... and it was good, better than any image on the web.

  4. So you think Reality is going to make a comeback? I say it can't happen too soon!

  5. most of the stuff out there is over hyped and delivered in small 'sound bites', in order to meet the ever decreasing attention span of people brain washed with years and years of tv - and of web addiction in more recent years.

    i always found crap like myspace, facebook, twitter and the like to be an utter waste of bandwidth, here today, gone tomorrow. never participated, never will.
    i honestly fail to understand the point of it. web sites are something else, they can be the modern equivalent of a book, a showroom, a brochure (to a certain point, of course).

    what i do find the net useful for though is having access to unlimited amounts of information; what we do with it is entirely up to us (IF we use our brain).

    i do read reviews of new product, and then i go check them out in person, i would not buy or dismiss a new product based solely of what hordes of people blast online. actually, many times the hype puts me off new products altogether and i dislike them right away.

    the other good thing is that it is MUCH easier to shop online than it ever was when you had to drive down to the store and (sometimes) get charged way too much.

  6. This is one of the best posts that I have ever read, but I only read what two bloggers in the entire world have to say.

    I do pop into dpreview.com a few times a week, just to see what's new on their front page. Haven't checked out a photography related forum in years. Even when the topic sounds like it would be interesting, after you read the original poster's message/question/comment you then quickly have to read through the initial answer, the next person disagrees, back adn forth a few times, and then the name calling, and by then you forgot what the original poster was even asking about..... But wait.... I don't "have to" read any of that, and so I no longer do.

    After years of hearing about Facebook, I finally signed-up sometime last fall. Tossed up a bunch of vacation photos for family members to see, and haven't done anything else with it since.
    Oh, and in the same week, I got me a Twitter account. I've never tweeted anything, and after getting my first 10 tweets, decided that I didn't need to see any more, and got out of that.

    I occassionally check out Mr. Kelby's TV web site and for a couple of months watched several issues of The Grid. Even though I like him personally, and really like his books, I just got tired of hearing them gush about 500px and Google+. I haven't been back since Christmas.

    This all reminds me of being in the lunch room at work in the early 90's and a co-worker was very enthusiastically extolling the virtues of the internet being a bottomless pit of information at your finger tips. I thought about what he was saying, and specifically remember my response saying that it sounded a lot like the public library to me. I guess he was "right", as no one goes to the library any more.....

  7. When I was a kid my folks had a hard and fast rule: No TV on school nights. Friday nights until bedtime and Saturday morning cartoons were all we were allowed (to be honest, there really wasn't much on TV back then that was worth watching and could hold a kid's attention). After school, before homework, we could go outside and climb a tree, dodge traffic, get in fights, whatever we could dream up, but NO TV.

    I don't have any kids, so I'm curious if parents today try to regulate web use like mine did TV (not content, which they did, but the actual time on-line) or if the ease and pervaisveness of internet access and pocket-size gadgets has made the "not on a school night" rule a thing of the past.

    What Murrow said 50+ years ago about TV is, I think, true of the web:

    "...This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."
    E. R. Murrow Oct. 1958


  8. The sheer volume of content-free posts on some forums reminds me of Bertrand Russell's remark: Most people would sooner die than think, and in fact they do.

  9. I come to your blog because you talk about things that interest me. Most people I know talk about sports (there's something that never changes or the more it changes, the more it stays the same). I'm thinking of buying some LED lights not because you wrote a book about them but because I need some lights for shooting portraits and I bought your book to get your opinion before deciding. Is my life "real"? No less so than when I had to make such decisions based on printed ad brochures.

  10. I quite like the internet. I find it easy to tune out the garbage, of which there is plenty. It's like anything else really, it depends on how you use it. A hammer can be used to build a home or commit a homicide, it's all up to the user. I'm old enough to remember when there was no internet, no cell phones, no computers. Those were good days, where people had to interact with one another to get anything done at all...but these are good days too. It's nice to be able to walk into a car dealership armed with more information than the salesperson, saves me from having to listen to the typical bullshit that sales types try to ply me with. I've had a lot of good experiences because of the web, and it's really easy to just unplug and make it go away, at least for a little while.

  11. Cigarette smokes always feel like it's easy to "unplug and make it go away" when they first get started.....

    Caveat Emptor.

  12. Well, yeah, OK, but what camera should I buy?

  13. Kirk,

    This is exceedingly well stated.
    You might want to take a look at my website about these issues. If we are not exactly on the same page we are at least in the same book.


  14. This sounds quite like something Marshall McLuhan ponder about the internet if he were still around to talk about it. Unsurprisingly (he was a bit of a oracle regarding media), he foresaw the so-called "Global Village" and predicted that "electric technology" would become an extension of ourselves (our "central nervous systems" were his exact words) and we would all integrate into one global consciousness. Lo and behold, here we are. His fascination with television as a medium and his idea about its drug-like effect on people would lead me to believe he would have a lot of very interesting (and similar) things to say about our current narcissistic addiction to the internet: In full agreement with your post. It (the current state of the internet) more or less proves his thesis; rather, one of his many theses about media and it's power to control the masses.

    What McLuhan has to say about technology is quite interesting as well, and folds quite nicely into discussions about art as he held artists up as the vanguard looking into the future and deciphering what the next technology would bring. He had the idea that technologies were environments in which we lived, they shaped our culture. New technologies created new environments, but we have no idea about our current environment until we were fully immersed in the new environment, using the new technology, presumably. This is where art comes in; he called it "an early warning system" that let the old culture know what was on the horizon. The artist, as he had it, was an expert in perception, s/he was to be a probe that explored the coming changes in our culture that arise from technological advances. He also warned, though, that we "become what we behold" and that "we shape our tools which in turn shape us," which, how I read it, is the pacified zombie watching the television, or the attention deficit internet browser surfing relentlessly for meaningless information, as you put it.

    It is all masturbatory, however. Not much more than a university-level writing exercise, so take it for what you will. I studied McLuhan for two different art history courses in school, and I got little more than the ability to talk about it on the internet in front a bunch of strangers who probably don't care and won't stroke my ego for it. But it's fun, and hopefully somewhat coherent, and this has been the only venue in which to share such knowledge in a dozen years or so...

    Keep writing, Mr. Tuck, and I'll keep coming back to read it. Tangled ball of string or not.

  15. Back in the 50's and 60's we wasted time playing pinball in the corner store, then we roamed the malls, we watched too much Star Trek followed by hanging out at Bowling Alleys, today you find the time wasters at the Coffee Shops with their electronic devices. We do have it pretty good in the USA, where we don't have to struggle every minute to take care of the basics of human existance. Life is a long trip.

  16. One of the healthiest things I've done lately is join a photo club, go to meetings, talk about stuff in person, watch videos together, share shots, and meet up for various shoots. Though I must admit we use Facebook quite heavily to keep everyone up-to-date. Back in eighties and nineties I was a heavy magazine consumer, and the internet has more or less replaced those, only the pages never end...
    In our house (it sounds kind of sad) we have one screen-free day each week. Amazing how much time you have on a weekend day without the internet. We come out of our daze and go do something... of course the next day we are all thrilled to be back online.

  17. So no one likes the photo? We were experimenting with brain manipulation aimed at increasing creativity....

    It didn't work but the neurologist says she'll eventually recover.

  18. Content trumps everything. You are correct. I'm still having a hard time figuring where my industry (news"paper") fits in to the future. There's no real model that pays for what I do. Publishers think they can package what the public gives us for free and sell ads around it. So the product is dumbed down. Now consumers resist paying for what they once subscribed to. Google packages what I do and they sell ads around it. (The hell of it is that my daughter works for Google). The people in sweat pants and crazy opinions think I'm the devil incarnate. I'm not quite sure if I was born too early or too late.
    John Krumm has a good idea there. I hang out with a bunch of toy camera and film afficianados called the Ann Arbor Area Crappy Camera Club. Members (I use the term loosely) range in age from about 21 to nearly 60. They ground me. They're my homies. It's like therapy, with good beer.

  19. It's a big web. You don't have to waste your life reading corporate fluff.

  20. so, be a dear and tell us where they hide all the good stuff.

  21. Here's a good thing about the web. I've messed with toy cameras since the 1980s. Way back when, I might read about a toy camera exhibit in New York City about every 2 years, if I were reading the New York Times. With the web, I started making contact with a worldwide community of toycam shooters. Pretty soon I had friends in North America , Northern Europe, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq. We had our work in common. So when a certain US President started talking about all of the evildoers over there in Iraq, I was offended. I actually know some of those folks, and they're a lot more like me and my family than that President could imagine.
    Anyway, those web connections eventually drew me to the aforementioned Ann Arbor Area Crappy Camera Club, where we meet face to face, talk about and show our work, and support each other's art. It's community.

  22. I'm kinda thinking maybe I should convert all my digital image files to film.

  23. Hoo ha! The Internet in all of its forms is awesome, because it let's me reach out to someone I've never met before and say, "Hoo ha!"

    Seriously, there was a study a couple of years ago where they tracked teens over the course of an evening. One of the most interesting findings of the research is that the teens did not distinguish between the friends they hung out with physically and those that they hung out with virtually (via texting and whatnot). For that generation - those born after Al Gore invented the Internet - there is no distinction between what is real and what is virtual. It just is, much in the same way that televisions just "are" for those that grew up with them but are revolutionary for those that were born before them.

    It's the age old story of old age. Tweeted. Pinned. And Liked.

  24. Good photo Kirk - but I think I "said" that already on the first post where you included it.

    Meaningless information: so true. The web is full of it. I also liked the term of Gordon McGregor: "corporate fluff". Right. Who needs this endless "we are the greatest", which translated only and every time reads: "give us all your money".

    I'm more and more looking for good content instead of interesting products. Your site and blog is full of it, which makes your thoughts about gear more interesting. Thanks for it all.

  25. i just wanted to say that i found the image rather witty - but isnt that loose connection a bit dangerous?

  26. I very much embrace the idea that "you give up hard won experience every time you abandon one tool for a newer one. And in the end the only thing that matters is how the work of art works." After ten years of bleeding out for the never ending parade of new digital tools and upgrades, I've happily gone back to film where I can simply concentrate on what I'm doing. The best part of this is that I can mostly disregard the Net, and I'm much happier for it.

  27. The Internet provides positive proof that 1,000 monkeys on 1,000 keyboards cannot produce Shakespeare :)

    The things I value most on the Internet are the things I actually pay for like lynda.com and creativelive's video series on photography.

  28. "The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject"
    - Marcus Aurelius -

  29. But it gives us a handy venue to trot out the truisms...

  30. I find it odd how many see the internet as "free entertainment".

    A crude analogy,

    You bought the car (a computer), you paid for the roads (internet infrastructure), you buy some gas (monthly internet provider fee), and when you take a drive to look for something to do, you end up looking at the scenary through a bunch of billboards after you paid a toll (30 second ad) to get on the highway.

    If free TV followed the same format, your 50" bigscreen would provide you with 19 inches of movie and the rest changing banner ads.

    The places I frequent on the internet tend to be subscription sites and/or low ad sites, and sites providing useful information without all the chatter.

  31. Brian, most of us bought computers to write papers, process digital files and do accounting so that part of the argument is a non-starter. We mostly got internet connections to receive business e-mail. So I'm not buying that part of the argument.

    You can take your accounting laptop to Starbucks and access all the bandwidth you want for free. Same at Whole Foods, Trianon Coffee, Barnes and Noble, Downtown Austin, etc.

    You can go to a library in Austin and get all the web you want for free on one of their computers.

    As far as TV goes haven't you noticed that, with amazing regularity, your chosen programming is interrupted and ads take over the WHOLE SCREEN?

    I like the little corners of the internet where people aren't trying too hard to sell me something...

    You forgot to mention that a huge amount of our income tax dollars went to Darpa to develop the internet, beyond the commercial infrastructure you mentioned.

    Interesting to contemplate...

  32. Well, it was a crude analogy. :D

    Popups, spam, banner ads, and dancing gifs have been decreasing the internet's usability for a long time. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. are pushing it over the edge for me.

    I'm not a technophobe (in fact I'm an advanced computer user) but my life is boring enough at times that even I'm not all that interested in what I'm doing. I can't imagine subjecting someone else to constant updated about it. I stopped logging into a facebook account to get away from others doing the same.

    I agree that sometimes you're better off walking away from it, getting some fresh air, slowing down, and enjoying what you already have around you. Turn off the TV and phone too.

  33. Someone suggested that taking a sabbatical from the Internet--once a week, all weekend, whatever--is a way to restore your sanity. Fantastic idea. Put down the mouse. Step away from the monitor. Listen to the quiet in your head. Read a book. Even better, go outside! Walk around. There's a lot more happening out there than on the Internet, much of worth photographing.

    Got to go. Thanks.


  34. Just last night I stood in the gathering darkness at the end of the first 70 degree day of the year here in VA, getting mud on my boots and with one leg of my tripod planted in several inches of water.

    As I waited for the second hand on my wristwatch to mark off the minute I needed for the exposure, I listened to the traffic passing by a few hundred yards away, almost drowned out by the noise of the river. I marveled at how much the river level was up and how much faster than usual it flowed, probably from snow melt earlier in the week.

    I gave and received "hello"s and "good evening"s to total strangers whom I've never seen before and might never see again as they passed by on the riverside walking path.

    And I felt...happy. At peace.

    Beats the crap out of sitting at a computer looking at someone else's photos of the same scene while the news anchor on the TV in the background tells us all how high the river level is after all the snow melted and warns us not to get too close to fast moving water and we wait for the people we think we know to "like" some inane post we just made about how awesome our evening is because we're looking at photos on the internet.

    The photo you used is very apropos for the subject by the way, good choice!


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