Pic Your Friends

Phenomenology, folksonomy, and the reification of personal experience made fun, easy, and social

Time was, when some drunk guy in a bar challenged you to elucidate the relationship of photographic technology and the reification of personal experience under the conditions of 21st-century global capitalism, gosh, you couldn't even get started without plowing through a stack of books by Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, and assorted other pointy-heads. Nowadays you just tell him to go take a look at flickr.com, the classy little photo-sharing site all the bloggerati are uploading their visuals to. Or better yet, you whip out your camera phone, snap a shot of the guy, key in a caption, e-mail it to your Flickr account, and tell him to go take a look in a few hours, after friends and strangers from around the world have marked up the image with comments on his haircut, his waist size, and the phenomenology of digital media.

A frozen moment, about to proliferate
image: flickr.com
A frozen moment, about to proliferate

Flickr didn't invent online picture sharing, of course, but it was the first such site to recognize itself as much more than a hosting service for personal photo albums. Tricked out with features inspired by the latest fashions in online-software design—post-Friendster social-networking tools, "folksonomy”-friendly image-tagging code—Flickr turned enough industry heads to win itself a $35 million buyout from Yahoo, announced last week. Flickr has also won a devoted following of users hungry to explore the possibilities its Web-centric toolset opens up. It's a place not just for self-display, but for an emergent visual conversation: One popular thread consists entirely, and with a certain random elegance, of pizzas, manholes, coins, and other circular objects centered squarely in the frame. The "Iraq" tag joins snapshots of anti-war protests and Baghdad patrols in a piquant mix. The frozen moment proliferates here, as it has done increasingly since photography was invented, but never before has its social life been such a party.

 
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