The Great Race to Below Average

imageI woke up last Friday to find an email from Twitter encouraging me to go, as they said:

Beyond words.

Twitter is for sharing standout moments. And not just with text. It lets you tell stories — as they happen — with photos. Our new photo features make sharing your pics a snap.”

The email goes on to point out that “you can share multiple photos at the same time.” You can also “tag your friends” and you can change the mood with a “filter from our library” to make a “pretty picture prettier.”

Of course, we know that this isn’t about sharing moments, including friends or making things prettier. This is about competition. We see what you did there Twitter, “tag” and “filter” being Pig Latin quality code words for Facebook and Instagram. You thought we wouldn’t notice? Um-day.

We also understand why you did it. You had to. Facebook wants us to engage it in the rapid-fire, almost meaningless sort of updating that has long been your domain. Twitter, while your actions may be justified, they are just one more step toward the mediocre middle ground formerly known as “below average.” At a point where myriad technological advances are poised to bring us the best of everything, we are being led like sheep to the place where everything is adequate and we aren’t supposed to care. Remember:

When Everything does Everything Nothing Will Be Special

As I look at the 31 words in that opening statement from Twitter, three things make me sad.

One – Twitter lets me tell stories. I tell stories here, in 800 – 1,000 words and I always include at least one photo. Twitter is suggesting that I can add an extra photo or two and tell those same stories with 140 characters. I guess I could:

Dan opened his inbox on Friday and was saddened by what he read

There, there’s today’s story Twitter style, you can go now.

I could also tell this story on Facebook, using as many words as I like, but my friends might not ever see it. Facebook controls which posts my friends see. Wordy posts won’t get picked. No, if I want you to read my story on Facebook, I need to have some photos, keep it short, ask the right kind of questions , litter it with Emoticons, post it on a Thursday and include a contest. If you don’t believe me, read the enormously long article (834 words) on Fast Company’s website. So, if I try to tell this story on Facebook, the algorithm that controls sharing will likely only show it to 5% of my friends.

Two – I can share photos on Twitter now. Actually, I imagecould share them there before, but when something is marketed as being new, you aren’t supposed to talk about how it’s really old. I can share photos on Facebook too, I have been able to since I joined Facebook. I can also share photos on Flickr. The photo to the right is one that I shared on both Flickr and Facebook. In fact, I downloaded it from Facebook to include here and to make point number two.

The .jpg file I downloaded from Facebook is 960 x 720 pixels. The original .jpg file, the one on Flickr, is 4,896 x 3,672 pixels. So, when you store your photos on Facebook, you reduce their image quality by a factor of 5. Sure, it looks fine on every device from which you can view Facebook, but I wouldn’t consider it to be a backup of your photos. And the people who upload a ton of photos to Facebook to make room on their camera’s memory card, what’s the word for that? Oh yeah, um-day.

Three – This really has nothing to do with Facebook or Twitter, imagebut both services are focused (no pun intended) on capturing and sharing photos taken with your phone. The iPhone, according to Flickr, is now the most popular camera…sigh. That makes me sad because I know how much better photos can be when a quality camera is used, a camera with optical zoom and controls for aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance. In the hands of someone who knows how to manipulate all those settings, pictures become photographs without filters. I love my iPhone and I have almost 4,000 photos on it, including the Tulip to the right. Compare it to this one taken with a Canon EOS Rebel by a blogger that shares a beautiful flower photo every single day.

I’ve been an agent of change throughout my career. However, I also respect best-of-breed solutions. The original problem was that most people couldn’t afford best-of-breed options – BUT TECHNOLOGY SOLVED THAT PROBLEM! A quality point and shoot camera can be had for under $200 and will slip into your (other) pocket and last 5 years. Flickr will give you 1 Terabyte of storage for free! We could all take much better pictures and store them and share them in all their amazing quality for $40 a year, but convenience and “free” will drive us to Facebook and our iPhone. Eventually, companies will stop making point and shoot cameras and only serious photographers will have options to control the creation of a photograph. The rest of us will apply a post-production filter written by someone who understands math better than photography. Welcome to below average.

21 thoughts on “The Great Race to Below Average

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  1. Pictures – The screen shot is one of the standout moments I shared on Twitter last week. The center shot is the sunrise over a local tobacco field and the tulip, well, it’s better than no picture of the tulip but it’s not as good a photo as I could have taken if I had bothered to go inside to get my camera.


  2. Amen to everything you just said, Dan! Another quote that springs to mind? “Being like everybody is the same as being nobody.” Thank you, Mr. Serling. Will you please go and have a word with the people at Twitter now who clearly don’t understand this?


    1. Thanks Sammy. It is sad. I worry most about a generation who will be raised thinking that writing 20-50 words is all that’s ever needed. Thanks for the comment.


      1. And don’t get me started on the dearth of critical thinking. “If I google it, it must be true.”

        Sometimes I feel like there’s no way to stop the juggernaut, and I bet my parents feel the same way about all the rapid changes in their adult years, too.


  3. Guilty of all charges, sips her Coke from a can, smashes the ground turkey with her Pampered Chef tool, throws away her junk mail, snaps a photo of the dog with her iPhone and remembers she thrives in mediocrity.
    I have eight cameras, many of which are vintage. I use my iPhone 90% of the time. What does this say about me? What does it all mean?! lol


    1. It means you’re normal. We’re all normal. I have a DSLR that I don’t carry because of the weight. I have a fairly good point & shoot that I do carry but I have almost as many photos only iPhone. My wife does shred the junk mail and , what’s this ground turkey you speak of :)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and thanks as always for reading.


  4. I’d like to say that I share your pain —- but I don’t have a iphone . I wonder what flickr is , worry that I should get involved in linkedin ( ? ) , etc. Hopeless , so far .


    1. I don’t worry about you Dan. You share photos and tell stories on your blog, which is one that I always read. If to want to see my Flickr site, click on the tobacco field photo and explore a little. I guess in general, this post was preaching to the choir a bit. Most of you are great storytellers and you’re telling the unabridged versions. Thanks for that (I truly enjoy reading them) and thanks for reading mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I believe you can capture better pictures if you know some photographic skills and have an eye for creativity. I have many friends that have iPhone and also the best professional cameras that one can find in the market, but they don’t know how to capture the best pictures.


    1. You’re absolutely right, and it goes both ways. Lots of people manage to get very nice photos from today’s phones and some people can’t begin to do justice to the camera they are using. Your photos, for example, are beautiful, well composed and always seem to fit perfectly the prose you wrap around them.


  6. Well said, Dan. A Quality Control Manager who worked in China for a number of years said every time he complained to management that the products were not meeting quality standards they looked at him as if he was an nuts and said, “Perfect enough”. Quality never improved and he eventually quit complaining about it.


    1. That’s sad to read. I frequently worry that we spend time in systems development chasing perfection, but “standards” exist for a reason. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to add a comment.


  7. That remark about Facebook controlling which posts your friends see–it struck me as strange. I didn’t know it does that. Why would it do that, anyway? They are my friends, not FB’s! I also know that FB continuously nags you with a list of people you may know, but if you send friend requests to these people FB itself blocks you, or sends you a warning. I dislike Facebook, but I have met some truly good people there, so I must stay.
    Great post, Dan. Good day.


    1. I have the same feelings toward Facebook, but like you say Peter, I have to stay there to stay in touch with some good people. Facebook wants activity, they want to churn stories and show advertisers lots of traffic. They also want to analyze each post and determine what you’re talking about so they can discern where your interests are so they can better target ads to you. I wish they would just let me see everything my friends post and let me decide what to read and what to skip. I’m a big boy, I can figure it out. Thanks for the comment!


  8. Ooops! Although I share your valid thoughts about the new Below Average concept, encouraged by the race to be visible at any cost, I confess that I use my iPhone too much for my photos. The only reason is convenience but also complacency. Guilty. 100%.
    As always your post triggers questions and reflection on our new way of life. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr… Every one of them is here for the bucks, and we all contribute to their financial wealth. Can we live without them? Some people manage to. I don’t think I can live backwards, but we can still think about what we share or not, and how we do it. We can also engage in discussions with people who still think and put the finger on the right issues.
    Now I’m getting my camera! Thanks, Dan.


    1. Evelyn, I have as many photos on my iPhone as I have posted on Flickr so I’m not throwing any stones. I was more concerned by the suggestion that I can tell stories in Twitter. I would hate to see language skills head in a direction managed by social media companies. Thanks again for reading and for taking the time to comment.


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