Paris, 2015
Paris, 2015

I’ve been in the “social media” game for as long as I can remember. Let me tell you a story:

I just turned 21 years old, and I got 100+ “happy birthday” messages on Facebook. No phone calls. Two text messages (one from Cindy and one from my mom). No presents. No hugs in real life. I felt sad, shallow, and neglected.

At that moment I became fascinated how social media has changed our social relationships. This led me down a rabbit hole to study the effect of social media on human relationships. With the encouragement of Cindy, I taught a course at UCLA (while I was an undergraduate) titled: “The Sociology of Facebook and Social Networks.” You can download the syllabus.

Social media and photography

Berkeley, 2015
Berkeley, 2015

When I started photography, I just shot for myself. I had fun with my little Canon point-and-shoot. I took photos of my friends, family, and random stuff I encountered.

I then somehow stumbled upon all these great photographers online, and was blown away. Their image quality was so much better than what my little point-and-shoot could produce.

I soon learned they used “DSLR’s” and 50mm f/1.8 lenses (and shot everything at f/1.8 to get “bokeh”). This also led me down a rabbit hole of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

At the time I started to become more active on “social media” (before the days of Instagram) by creating my own “photo blog” and by signing up for Flickr and the Fred Miranda Black and White forum. There I was able to build a community of like-minded individuals, improve my photography, which helped me grow as a photographer.

However once Twitter came around, and social media really started to take off, I wanted to become more “famous.”

I had no idea what I was doing.

In the beginning, the goal was to get as many followers as humanly possible. Maximum external validation.

I did all the shady stuff; I followed random people (hoping they would follow back). I would favorite/comment/like other peoples’ photos (hoping they’d reciprocate) and it was the whole “circle jerk” of social media (if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours).

Needless to say; this led me down a hole of dissatisfaction. I was like a crack fiend, addicted to comments, pageviews, favorites, likes, and all these other bullshit forms of social media validation. I would refresh my photos every hour (hoping I got some new notification). Even when I had a full-time job, I would check Facebook (probably at least 200 times a day), hoping that I would get some new love.

My dream was to become “social media famous.” I wanted to be #1 on Google. I wanted to become known by everybody out there, and I wanted to be “respected.” I wanted to have photography books published of my work, I wanted to have solo exhibitions, and I wanted to travel the world and do what I loved.

My goal in life was to get over 100+ favorites on a single photo on Flickr. Once I reached that goal, it turned into 200 favorites, then 300. Then 500. Then 1,000. Now I look at the guy on Instagram with 200,000+ “likes” and I feel like a loser by comparison.

Social Media 4.0

Berkeley, 2015
Berkeley, 2015

I want to propose a new type of social media: “Social Media 4.0.”

The concept is this: rather than keeping in touch with random strangers on the web and trying to get lots of followers, likes, comments, etc— the point is to keep in touch with close friends, colleagues, loved ones, and family.

I recently did a social media purge; I unfollowed everyone on Instagram, installed the “Facebook News Feed Eradicator” on Google Chrome, and now I am trying to keep my social media feed tightly curated with close friends and colleagues I care about.

With Twitter, I installed a Chrome plugin to “mass unfollow” everyone; and now I am starting off from scratch. I only want to follow people who inspire me (and they don’t even need to be photography-related).

1:1 Interactions

Berkeley, 2015
Berkeley, 2015

I think one of the reasons why Snapchat has really taken off is because it is much more personal. You send photos and videos to individuals; rather than sending it to the mass of strangers online.

This feels more personal, more intimate. You can share more random shit, without feeling the need to be “serious.”

I also do a lot of 1:1 chatting with my friend Josh White and Neil Ta, via KakaoMessenger (Korean online messaginga pp) as well as What’s App.

Personally, my entire family (and Cindy’s family) uses KakaoMessenger, and we send each other random photos, messages, and videos to keep each other updated with our lives. I rarely use Facebook anymore.

This all feels so much more personal and meaningful. I don’t really care about following all my friends online. I just want to stay in touch with the people who really matter to me, in my personal life.

The Dunbar Number

Amsterdam, 2015
Amsterdam, 2015

In sociology, there is something called the “Dunbar Number”— the concept is that human beings evolved in tribes of 50-150 people. Apparently we cannot keep in touch with more than 150 people.

I read something interesting a while back; that a guy kept his Facebook friends list to 150 friends. And when he wanted to add another “friend,” he had to remove one “friend.”

Can we really keep in touch with over 150 people? Most of us (msyelf included) follow thousands; that is simply not humanly possible.

The secret then? We have to edit down the number of people we follow and stay in touch with.

You are the Average of the 5 Closest People To You

Probably one of the best quotes I learned from sociology:

“You are the average of the 5 closest people to you.”

So who are those people closest to you? At the moment here is my “inner-circle” for my photography:

  • Cindy
  • Josh White
  • Neil Ta
  • Myself

Honestly getting feedback from too many people is overwhelming. You can’t get honest feedback and critique from 1000’s of strangers on social media.

This is a technique I learned from Josef Koudelka; if his photographer friend thinks it is a good photo, if his (non-photographer) artist friend thinks it is a good photo, and if he thinks it is a good photo, it is a good photo.

At this point in my life too, I am too busy to elicit too much feedback. I keep it simple. I consult Cindy, I consult Josh and Neil; then lastly, I consult myself. If all of us check off a photo, it is a good photo.

Prune your inner-circle

Marseille, 2015
Marseille, 2015

Imagine you are a gardener; a social-media gardener. You need to be ruthless in terms of “pruning” (or editing down) your garden. Stick to your most treasured plants, and it is okay to let the rest die.

I’ve taken a hiatus from Instagram because I was addicted to it like a crack fiend (if I got anything less than 500 likes a photo it made me depressed; first world social media problems much?).

However now that I’m back on Instagram, I try to use it more mindfully. I keep the number of people I follow under 10, which makes it manageable. The people I follow aren’t all the most amazing photographers; some of them are just good friends that I want to keep updated with their lives.

So prune your inner-circle. Who are those 5 people who are truly meaningful to you? I think it is better to have 5 really close friends, than to have 1000’s of strangers as “acquaintances.”

Share your thoughts

Berlin,
Berlin, 2015

Who are the 5 photographers who you keep in touch with the closest; or who are the 5 photographers who inspire your work the most?

Leave a comment below, and share who are some other photographers you recommend people follow— whether that be Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, their blog, or website portfolio.

Tools

Berlin, 2015
Berlin, 2015

Here are some tools I’ve used to control my sanity:

Books

To read more about what the internet is doing to our brains, I recommend these books:

Join the Conversation

37 Comments

  1. hi Eric! you hit some nails straight in the head with this text.
    All this social media environment that we discover is totally new to us humans, and like any environment you can get lost in it.

    We don`t know what`s the “best way” to “live” in such an environment, and we learn on the way, and every individual has to figure it out how it works for him at certain stages of life. Just like eyou do..

    Wisdom comes only after experience, but in getting that wisdom one should always remember that the true price of things is the amount of life we exchange for them. Then we`ll be able to figure out what`s the price we pay for this social life of ours.

    Enjoy the journey! :)

      1. Social ,,,is what you can see,touch,hear,smell ,,and feel and even take a picture from ,,,;D

        Thx and have a nice day !!

  2. Hi Éric. First of all I would like to thank you for everything you taught me. And i would like to apologies for my english too. My point is that I was wondering that isn’t because of all the social media stuff you’ve done like liking/sharing/reposting /following/… that you got that famous and that you are now able to teach street photography and more to so many people ? I mean quiting (reducing) most of social media is kind of “ironic”.
    Anyway you are right. And please keep on doing what you do it’s perfect. :)

    Weg’z Photography

  3. Well done Eric. People don’t understand when I say I like to keep my “Friends” list to 250. You’ve given me a new goal (and the scholastic reference). Stay happy!

  4. As a learning filmmaker / writer i’m constantly trying not to get distracted. When you make decisions you choose both: what you want to do but far more importanly, what you dont want to do. You can only do one thing at a time.

  5. Exactly what I neesded to read today EXACTLY The Dunbar number sounds about right For most people the real number is probably lower. On the other hand the comments from Eddy below raise an interesting point

  6. This was an interesting read, and I can definitely relate to the fb stuff… I usually stick to birthday texts (for friends) and calls (for family). Regarding the Dunbar Number – have you heard of the Path app? It’s a social network based on that concept and limits you to 150 friends. I had it briefly a few years ago and liked the idea, but it felt like too much effort to leave fb for something new :P

  7. Hi, I’ve noticed that I spent too much time in social media thinking and looking photos instead of taking photos myself. So I deciced to unfollow most photographers and photo sites.

    I’m lazy to update anything on Facebook or Twitter. Nowadays I’m using Instagram to share what I’m doing.

    About the birthdays. I’m going to stop congratulating via Facebook and send a card instead or even calling. In August I sent a card to a friend of mine who then texted and thanked and told that it was the first birthday card in five years.

    Going to start living life outside of social media.

  8. Hi Eric

    A really good article! I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook and at one point considered deleting my account. But then I thought that was a bit drastic, so instead I did a massive cull. I had close on 500 friends and trimmed it down to around 120. It has now crept up to about 150. Interesting how the Dunbar number seemed to just happen naturally. I think I’ll stick within the 150 limit!

    On another note, I miss the old days of sharing photos in the 90s. If you went on holiday you made 6″ by 4″ prints and would bring them along when you met up with a friend to show them. So much better! I shoot film and digital but hardly ever with my phone. I don’t like the idea of sharing a photo on social media while you are still “living” the event as it “effects” the event itself. My old Nikon D90 doesn’t have wifi so when I do share the photos it’s after the fact, usually a couple of days later. And then I try to limit what I post do only the best photos so it’s no more than 20 or so!

    Cheers Sean

  9. Great article Eric. I’ve stopped using it all. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and so on and so on. It felt strange and empty at first, but after the first week I felt better than ever. Suddenly I had much more free time to spend on what actually matters.

  10. I’ve followed you for a long time via your blog but I think this is my first time commenting. I really like what you said here and your sentiments ring true. I hardly use twitter except for a few things, I like IG for the most part but I’ve deleted the actual Facebook app from my phone and just use the groups at this point. I feel like the Facebook app itself and what rolls through it is mostly trash and clickbait. I have meaningful relationships in the groups and that’s pretty much it anymore.

  11. Too bad you live on the other side of the US… I’ve followed your blog for quite some time and you’re clearly a great guy. My wife and I would have taken you and yours out for your BDay. If you every find yourself in the Pittsburgh area look me up (I’m serious, not an empty offer). We only get one life and it’s nice to see you are making the most of it. Take care and Happy Birthday.

  12. I cannot say ‘what is facebook’ because I sort of know what it is. But I have never been a member (or whatever they call it to be part of it) and I never will.
    You did ask for a list of photographers who have influenced me, and that is a very good question. Many of them are no longer around, but their pictures live on and are still a great inspiration. And that is one wonderful thing about photography.
    Christer Stromholm, Edward Weston, Anders Petersen, Jeanloup Sieff, Gene Smith.

  13. Eric,
    Another long time follower first time commenting.

    First let me thank you for all the help and guidance you’ve provided. I retired about 2 years ago and street photography has allowed me to stay busy with a sense of purpose.

    Second. Consider adding Sherry Turkle’s ‘Reclaiming Conversation’ to your reading list. A great book on the price we are paying for our digital relationships.

    I’ll leave you with this. Kids are now spending on average 9 hours interacting with a screen. Thats more time then in school, then sleeping or all the rest of their stuff combined.
    Thanks Rich

  14. Hi Eric! Just playing the devils advocate, but have you entertained the possibilty of removing the comments sections? My two cents< but it could also be a crutch for you and source of validation, (you don’t need it)…maybe? Anyway, keep up the good work:)
    Roman

  15. This is a very good article. At one point I think a lot of people have this problem. I deleted my face multiple times only to go the the process again, finally for good a year ago I find myself doing the same for Instagram but I will take this into consideration thank you.

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