Social Media 4.0

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, 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.


Berlin, 2015
Berlin, 2015

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


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