On Photo Sharing

Pixelfed Account

I started using Instagram a handful of years ago, with the goal being to keep in touch with my extended family. We don’t have get-togethers as often anymore and since I wasn’t going to touch Facebook with a ten foot pole, I thought Instagram might be a reasonable middle ground.

I never really felt too comfortable with it, though. Instagram is, of course, owned by Facebook and comes with all of the same privacy-related baggage. I was able to get past that because I could see photos of my cousins and leave the occasional comment, but eventually, I stopped posting.

It wasn’t just the privacy issues, another problem I have with photo sharing services like Instagram is that they just make me feel terrible. People distill their lives to only the best parts. I look at my life by comparison and feel like I’m not doing as many interesting things. It’s a mental trick, mind you, my friends and family aren’t spending their lives in luxury any more than I am, but because everyone is sharing exclusively that portion of their life, my Instagram timeline is continuously filled with people having way more fun than I currently am.

I’ve since deleted the Instagram app from my iPhone and have only jumped back into my timeline once or twice through a web browser. Each time I came out of it feeling worse than when I went in. I don’t want to do that anymore.

But it got me thinking about photo sharing in general. And more specifically about how we’ve created this efficient system for sharing to a mass audience. The personal aspect of photos is lost in the sharing process. When I would post a photo, I wouldn’t receive any comments, it never sparked any conversations. I would just get a handful of likes and that was that. What’s the point? It’s become a game of vanity where the number of likes you receive is the only feedback mechanism. It stinks.

As an experiment, I started sharing photos with individual people, privately, over iMessage. I wouldn’t send them a whole collection of photos, just one at a time here and there. And what I found is that when you send an individual person a photo privately, you actually spark a conversation. You end up relating the photo to something that you did when you were a child or reminiscing about when you and the other person traveled to that location years ago.

When you make the decision to share a photo like this you end with a real, meaningful interaction. An interaction that, otherwise, would have been reduced to them simply tapping a heart icon to send a notification. I want a lot more of the former and a lot less of the latter.

I still have my Instagram account, my Pixelfed instance, and a shared album in iCloud that friends and family can view. But I don’t know if I actually care about sharing photos publicly anymore. I suppose there is some value in having a place where only my best photos are located, but I already have Day One which does a great job at filling that role.

I’m going to sit with this thought for a while and see whether there’s room for some amount of public photo sharing in my life. But in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the conversations that come from privately sharing those photos with individuals.