Photographing Your Lunch

     Most Fridays the crew here at Courthouse News takes off for lunch together, shortening the afternoon and hastening the arrival of the work week’s end.
     So last Friday, one of our youngest workers took a picture of her lunch on the new and apparently wildly-popular app Instagram and tagged it for the special attention of the youngest person at our company, the intern, who also has the app installed on her phone.
     But the two girls were sitting right next to each other at the lunch table.
     Why, I wondered, would you send a photo of your food to the person sitting right next to you. Which thought clearly tags me as an old fuddy duddy.
     Having grown up as the son of a photographer, I saw photos as a form of expression. That is different from simply recording where you have been, posing at Venice Beach, say. The latter is what you put in a photo album, volumes that, when they were pulled out, always made me want to be anywhere else.
     What the ubiquity of cell phone cameras has done is merge the two, where you are both recording your experience but also commenting on it and pushing it out to your friends right away. It is basically immediate self-publishing, which is a form of expression.
     But it is more than that. It is publishing in a forum where others are also publishing, and taken together, it becomes group publishing, a shared expression, a shared experience.
     I have an old Nokia where the paint on the corners has been rubbed off by the time in my pocket. It can take pictures but the process is cumbersome and the capacity very limited. I don’t take many and I don’t have a twitter account where you can publish your comments all through the day.
     But I do publish. That’s what we do at Courthouse News. Our webpage was read by two million readers in March. So I well understand the desire to send a flow of news out to readers.
     What I could not really fathom was the price paid for Instagram. It was sold last month for one billion dollars to Facebook. In the news accounts, it was described as a cellphone app where you can put various filters on a photo and then send them to your friends.
     A billion dollars? For that?
     My dad, who was also a master at printing, used filters in the dark room all the time. I remembered it from being in the dark-room with only the dim, red safe light on, as I assisted in a red-lit shadow world where my dad was like the wizard, his big hands working quickly as he replaced filters, adjusted the enlarger up or down to control the size of the magnification, focused the image, timed the exposure and gave sections of the print more light or less by moving his hands through the exposing stream of light.
     But in the day of a computer programs like Photoshop, putting a filter on an image is as easy as it gets. So what’s with the billion.
     The answer is two-fold, as I see it.
     People are crazy about publishing their experiences and thoughts to their friends, as passing as they might be or as commonplace as the food you are about to eat.
     Second, and this is the important part, the publishing with Instagram is all on the cellphone. It does not exist on a computer. It is all done through the thing you carry in your purse or your pocket.
     Facebook runs through a website on the internet. Although the distinctions are breaking down, people generally check their Facebook page through a computer. Instagram bypasses all that and simply publishes straight into your cell phone.
     And that is what made it both a threat to Facebook and worth a whole lot cash.
     “It’s just posting pictures and you can make it look old. That’s it” said a 26-year-old at work with some disdain. “I don’t use it.”
     “It’s fun,” said the 18-year-old intern, “you can put filters on it, make it look all artsy, take pictures of your food, take pictures of your friends, make comments.”
     Therein lies a billion bucks.

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