Why do I write this blog? Obviously I started it for fame, fortune, and bevies of nubile maidens. Lately, though, these motivators have dropped off in importance. Now I write it mostly to help me sort of ideas that I want to get sorted out. By organizing my thoughts into little essays, and polishing them up sufficiently for "public" consumption, I figure out quite a lot of things and get a lot of ideas straight in my own mind. As a side note, my personal photography has improved, at least in my own eyes, immensely over the last year I've been writing this.
My current theory is that twitter and tumblr and facebook status updates and all of that short-form blogging is closely allied to what I am doing, but in a less organized, less edited and polished, fashion. Where a longer form blog represents some thoughts that have been examined, re-arranged to make more sense, and polished up, "micro-blogging" represents (frequently) something much closer to a raw stream of consciousness. When you're limited to 140 characters but can make remarks as frequently as you like, at any time and from anywhere, you tend to do less editing and polishing.
As we have that constant, silent, conversation with ourselves, our interior monologue, some things naturally seem more important than others. Some thoughts seem particularly apt, some observations of the world and of ourselves seem particularly interesting. For the avid twitter user, at some threshold these apt and interesting elements of the interior monologue get copied into a smartphone and sent out to the world. "World hunger is a political problem" "I just saw a cat with one blue eye and one orange one".
Social media users with particularly interesting observations, or particularly dull friends, or particularly many friends, get a little positive feedback. Social media services make it a one-click operation to generate approval, you can Like, or +1, or re-tweet with almost no effort. This generates positive feedback. This, in turn, tends to increase the amount of interior monologue that is surfaced onto the internet.
Essentially, it's mumbling onto the network like a crazy person, egged on by our idiot friends.
Twitter and similar textual systems allow us to offer up a lightly curated version of the verbal, conscious, part of our own thought processes to the world, and in fact encourage us to do so.
What about pictures?
Being non-verbal they're not really interior monologue, are they? I think they tend to be expressions of the observational aspect of the interior monologue. They are a manifestation of the "I just saw a cat with one blue eye and one orange eye" that gets interjected into that monologue from time to time. When we first get a camera, we do a variation of this. Of course, we're looking for things to take pictures of, we're not merely trotting through life observing things, but there is nonetheless the impulse to photograph random interesting things.
With a film camera, we must husband our film as we wander around taking pictures. Even with a digital camera, after the first love affair with pictures wears off, when we go out to take pictures we're husbanding our editing time. We don't shoot just everything cool, because we know we're going to spend some time picking out the good ones, at least. So we try to make good ones, not just everything.
The ability to dump pictures into a chronological infinitely deep stream with a couple button clicks removes all these brakes. There is no cost. There's no film to buy. We're not going to edit. We're not going to pick out the best ones. Perhaps our friends will, with their Like buttons, but we're not going to. Editing is replaced with simply dropping pictures into a time-stream, where shortly they will be obliterated by a mass of newer pictures. It's all ephemeral. Our observational impulse is unbridled. We can now tweet about the cat, and post a picture of the same cat with a cool sepia vignette, and the whole thing takes only slightly more effort than the internal thought "wow, that cat has different colored eyes"
Is this an indictment? Not really. The only difference between a busy twitter feed of nothing and this blog and the most erudite of books is one of degree. Each represents a selected subset of an interior monologue. This blog is a little more organized, edited, and polished. A good book is more organized, more edited, the thoughts are more thoroughly curated.
Henri Cartier-Bresson's street photography, just to pick an example, is merely a carefully curated selection of his "hey, will you look at that" moments.
In short, you're all just a bunch of crazy people mumbling onto the network, but that's OK.