Tyranny of Algorithms, Exhibit Z


God, please save us from the tyranny of algorithms, Type A personality fetish, and their do-gooder programmers. Surveillance capitalism and now science; welcome to the future. 

This is why my only two social media accounts Ello and LinkedIn (plug!) are on private, and that still might not matter. Algorithm economy and culture – even if there is perhaps a little bit of public good in them – might as well be called Creeper Capitalism. How long before a deployed psychological algorithm is involuntary?

There really needs to be effective and enforced privacy laws (and just a better fucking understanding of art and photography) to prevent discriminatory misuse or abuse by government and companies, particularly insurers and employers. But while we were busy playing with the new shiny toy, that train might have left the station.

The More Things Change…

Is “new media” becoming just like the old?

The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age

This is a book I’m currently reading and I’m recommending it to you. It’s a topic worth the time and thought. Certainly it’s a valuable discussion to have given current circumstances for the Internet and its future.

If you, an artist or creator of content -professional, student, or amateur – are wondering if your digital work can ever be more than a devalued commodity for the large benefit of someone else, this book is very much worth your time. I think that developers, investors, business owners and common users can benefit from such reading, as well.

If you haven’t thought on this topic at all, it’s still relevant to you. Perhaps more so.

Not an affiliate link to Amazon.

Why I Broke Up with Instagram

To be blunt, I eventually found it to be a bore and not something that benefited my business. No, there doesn’t have to be a marketing angle to everything. But if it’s no longer helping me creatively, and the professional or financial impact is innocuous at best for those of us not a celebrity or big corporation, and if there is not genuine social currency then what is the point? I appreciated the support I received from some individuals on IG, but time is indeed precious and it’s time for me to invest it elsewhere.

Too often I hear from other photographers that their social media followers, regardless of the size or number of likes, don’t bring much business, if any, and despite their best efforts or quality, their fans “have not even bought me a cup of coffee.” And that’s the thing, for me IG became something I did while passing brief time at a coffee shop. IG as filler, and cheap empty calorie filler at best. Am I cynical on this? Yes. I’ll own that. But it’s hard for me to admit that it’s anything else.

This is not to say there isn’t some lovely work displayed on IG, there is. It’s just that the photography, professional or amateur, doesn’t resonate with me there. We never go back and look, at least I don’t. It doesn’t stick. And that’s a shame, because there are photos that really should. Perhaps it’s the medium or platform itself and how it impacts people consciously, but that’s something for the ghost of McLuhan to study. To me, it’s a place where people look for the bright shiny object, a sunset photo for example (I love good sunset pics), and they go, “Ooooooo” and press the like button and quickly move on. Then do the same again and again. It feels rote.

Also, just who is really benefiting? I know IG changed their TOS to be more user-friendly but their policy still seems ambiguous. I suppose if it’s okay with NatGeo and Magnum it should also be okay with me, unless they negotiated their own agreements. But that was of small concern.

The larger issue to me is about the return. I think photographers need to start thinking about their participation in this stuff. Or rather, how they’re participating? Why they’re so eager to give away free content on some networks, while only a few people behind the network cash in on that user-generated content?

I understand that some people just like it and think it’s fun, but have the user-generated for profit networks really helped a vast majority of photographers commercially? Perhaps for a well established relative few and possibly a few unknowns, but for noobs that’s like winning the lottery. Maybe the positive outcomes are amorphous, but overall its benefit is highly questionable. I also don’t buy the idea that I have to be on all social networks, just to do it.

In fairness, perhaps some of it is my fault, in that I didn’t put in enough effort on IG. Maybe I’m not leveraging the alleged power of it properly. I do succumb to social media fatigue easily. But that’s just it. If I don’t feel like I can give a network my all and deliver consistent quality content, along with a true emphasis on engagement then I don’t see much point in being there. To continue participating, despite my disinterest, is counter-productive for me and unfair to my followers and others who have liked my work. Eventually my disinterest would show in the work, and then it would be a lie.

If Facebook is the suburb or gated community of the Internet, Twitter the crazy part of downtown, Tumblr or BeHance the faux art colony, and LinkedIn the office park of the Internet, then what is Instagram and others like it? It seems to be the digital inside of a high school locker or an adolescent bedroom wall. While there is some folksy teen dream ideal in that, it’s not something I can feign enthusiasm for. IG was fun and a rejuvenation for a time, much like a dalliance is while on vacation. Similar to an experience like that, good as they are sometimes, it wasn’t meant to last.




I Like You: How much social validation do you need?


How much social validation is enough before you’re confident that your work is good? 10 likes? 50? 1000? 1,000,000? What is the magic number?

Stuck? That’s because there is no magic number. Like the work itself, it’s a subjective value judgment. In the broad world of social media, it’s a collection of dynamic whims and unless you’re trying to sell to a mass audience it’s of little consequence.  And even then, I’m not sure if social media is a great sales tool or if it’s just a nice complimentary thing on the periphery of a business.  (Yes, I know about the NatGeo photographer who made $10,000 on IG… but he’s NatGeo, the exception).

Does David Hobby – I’m a fan – have a popular blog because of social media or was he already successful and his following migrated? Is the growth of his following because of social media, or personality cult? Same questions apply to the NatGeo photographer or the Magnum bro-dudes.

Sure, there is the occasional heartwarming story of an unknown person who emerges with a zillion billion followers on IG – legitimately – and then gets a book deal. But such stuff is like winning the lottery. There are plenty of good or even great photographers, who for whatever reason, don’t get the zillion million followers.

I know good “amateur” photographers with big followings, but little to speak of in the marketplace. I know working photographers who are very busy, but consider it an accomplishment to get 10 likes on Instagram (Plug Time! You can follow me on IG @paul_ottaviano). In other words, there doesn’t appear to be much currency in it for most photographers. Perhaps there is some social currency, depending on what circles you travel in.

That said, I do appreciate very much the likes and comments my work gets. I’m grateful for the followers I do have. It’s fun to share and see the work of others. But if I’m following my passions or on self-assignment, the like that is most important to me is my own. I do not have some arbitrary number that I must reach in order to feel validated. If I’m on assignment, the only likes that mean anything to me are mine and my clients.

The people who esteem my work the most and who have hired me probably couldn’t find me on WordPress or IG and know little about it. I’m a photographer who happens to blog, but I’m not a blogger… you know what I mean. Listening to others, and based on my experience so far, I think offline client relationships and business development still works best, e.g. “the personal touch”. As for social media, my heart flutters when I see a “big” like count… then I immediately think about what comes next.