In his short story “The Aleph,” Jorge Luis Borges recalls an experience he had gazing into an aleph. He describes it as “one point in space that contains all other points. The only place on earth where all places are—seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending.” This fictional story regards the aleph as a both a gift and a curse because it gives the gazer a chance to see and know everything on earth. That is what social media has developed into today. Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and countless other sites, we now have the opportunity to see all—to see into people’s lives and to see the world like never before. Social media has opened up the unimaginable universe. Like peering into the aleph, checking your newsfeed or your Twitter timeline provides insight into everything in our world, from every angle—simultaneously, infinitely.
The aleph is significant beyond Borges’ short story. Its symbol is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and is literally a part of the word “alphabet.” It is venerated by Kabala and other mystic traditions that put value on an aleph as the pursuit of truth. Like the aleph in these ancient traditions, social media is the means by which we seek truth in modern times. From companies to customers, from artists to fans, from friends to family, and from your PC to mine, we can now paint a more accurate, “truer” picture of the people we interact with via social channels. Social media offers us an endless amount of communication that is continuous and extremely transparent. Through following people, companies, bands, etc. on social media, we can see who their friends are, what interests them, where the have been, where they plan to go, their religious, and political stances and a plethora of other information that we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered.
"Aleph Sanctuary" - Mati Klarwein
Thanks to the advances of social media technology and the massive amounts of information these sites are processing, we have transitioned into the age of the “recommendation.” There are logarithms, programs and software that can now introduce you to more people, places, and things based on what you already like and your physical location. You can discover when concerts and art festivals are happening in your area, what news is breaking, and what song will go well with your mood for the day. Other sites will recommend vacations spots, restaurants, lawyers, and doctors. Heck, these sites can find you a job or an employee—all out of the comfort of your living room! This age of “recommendation” is giving us options like never before and it is shocking how incredibly accurate the recommendations are.
As our technologies grow and progress, we must accept that our lives are no longer veiled in secrecy. You can be a pessimist and see this as an intrusion on your privacy, but if you are receptive to this information exchange, the possibilities are endless. The more you share, the more people will share with you. The more you follow, the better recommendations you will get and the more useful social media will be for you. So instead of being wary of this connectivity, you could revel in the endless possibilities of this aleph. It will undoubtedly open your world to bigger and brighter things while introducing you to more people and experiences you would have never had an opportunity to access before.
— Jake Annear
Back in simpler times— let’s say 2006— when Twitter was in its infancy and Facebook was caught in an awkward adolescence, photo-sharing services were an essential part of one’s online persona. Sites like Picasa, Flickr and Photobucket invited users to upload their pictures, share with friends and “follow” others long before such features had caught fire in other social systems.
But where are they now?
While the aforementioned services still enjoy a great deal of traffic, they seem to have been shuffled to the corner in terms of general buzz. Soon Picasa (along with Blogger) will lose its unique brand nameas part of the Google+ integration— a decision that could relegate Picasa (neé Google+ Photos) to the ranks of Instagram and Facebook Photos.
In 2006, Webshotswas my photo-sharing service of choice. Five years later, the site still sends me regular updates on my albums’ activity (surprisingly, people are still looking). The appeal of Webshots lay in its low-pressure yet dynamic atmosphere; it was a place to share images with non-Facebook users and to show off my shots to anyone who happened to stumble upon the account. While Webshots never boasted a strong community environment, it did feature a “Picture of the Day” and invited users to get lost browsing a smorgasbord of images— some funny, some pointless and some extraordinary. Bought by American Greetings in 2007, what was once a tidy and quiet site now seems cold, cluttered and too commercial.
Is the friendly, inspiring and not-too-social atmosphere a thing of the past for photo-sharing sites? Perhaps not.
500px, a startup from 2003 and recent darling of Microsoft BizSpark is attempting to create a home for professional photographers and photo-lovers alike. While the site features a follow function, Twitter account and Facebook page, its tie-in to social media is more conservative. LiveJournal, not WordPress or Tumblr, hosts the site’s blog. Eschewing the share-happy mentality, their mission is “to help photographers get greater exposure, reduce some of the marketing headaches, and to let creatives concentrate on what they do best.”
Although 500px might not be the best fit for an amateur photographer like me, it’s reassuring to know that high-quality images (see editors’ picks) have a community base unfettered by tags and tweets.
— Nicole Duncan