“Driveby culture and the endless search for wow”


General Culture

Complaints about the internet tend to mirror complaints about fast food or candy. But they never mention that the internet actually has more in common with a library than with a fast-food restaurant or candy store.

My friend Mark sent me the link to an article called Driveby culture and the endless search for wow. I think I want to say a few things about this, because, in part, it is related to what I often hear about photography online. (more)

In a nutshell, the argument is that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter because the web encourages quick consumption of little things (where “thing” here might be a photo, a funny video, a short article, or whatever else). In the photo world, the complaint usually is phrased as people bemoaning that the internet encourages the quick consumption of photography, with what is interesting today is already forgotten tomorrow.

It’s not going to surprise anyone that I don’t agree with this sentiment. It’s not even such a new argument. It’s just like blaming fast food for the fact that so many people are terribly overweight. Of course, fast food is part of the reason why so many people are overweight. But it’s not the existence of fast food that causes that. It’s because people don’t exercise, don’t go anywhere other than sitting in a car, and only eat fast food, in amounts that obviously are unhealthy for more reasons than just one.

I don’t think the situation is all that different from what we see online. I always think of photography online as a going to an incredibly well stocked candy store (full disclosure: I have a terrible weakness for candy. I once had a student job at an actual candy factory with an all-you-can-eat policy. My experience was only marred by the fact that I had to get up at 5:30am to start work at 6:30am).

Having that candy store at one’s disposal is the greatest thing. But what you do with all that candy is up to you. If you go to a candy store and then eat candy until you’re sick - well, whose fault is it? The candy store’s? For having too much candy on offer?

In this sense, when the author of the drive-by article writes that “the net has spawned two new ways to create and consume culture” that’s only 50% true. It might be true that the net has resulted in new ways to create culture, but in terms of the consumption (ugly, yet fitting word, isn’t it?) it’s really not that different from how you’d consume fast food or candy or anything else for that matter.

Of course, by picking candy and fast food, I selected two items that are bad for you. What about books? Funny, people never seem to complain about libraries resulting in overly high levels of literacy (if you don’t think there is such a thing as an overly high level of literacy, just listen to an episode of Says You).

It’s interesting that complaints about the internet tend to mirror complaints about fast food or candy. But they never mention that the internet actually has more in common with a library than with a fast-food restaurant or a candy store.

To conclude that the internet has resulted in a driveby culture is just not correct. We have created a driveby culture by treating the internet like an all-you-can-eat candy store and not like a read-as-many-books-as-you-want library (in actuality, the internet is more like a read-as-many-books-as-you-want library with an all-you-can-eat candy store attached).

It’s up to us to change things (should we feel that we need to change things), in ways that reflect what we want to do. The internet not only has resulted in many new ways to create and spread information, it has also resulted in many different ways how to “consume” that information (btw, one could probably argue that that’s not that different from having hundreds of cable-TV stations at one’s disposal).

This means that each and every one of us has to make a decision about how to deal with photography her/himself. For example, I could look at photography all day long. I never get tired of seeing new photography (and revisiting old photography). But I also know that a lot of people don’t like to look at photography that way. You simply have to pick what works best for you.

You don’t have to join the “endless search for wow.” You really don’t. But if you join, don’t blame the internet for what might result from your decision.