I post on Instagram only a couple times a month now. Six months ago it was four or five times a week. I am deliberately leaning into Flickr as my primary place to look at and share photographs. As I’ve done that, Instagram has felt less compelling — almost boring.
There’s something about sharing photos on Instagram that feels like playing the slots. The other day I got a pretty good payout. I shared this 2017 photo of a Studebaker Champion nose and it got 90 Likes in just a couple days, which is a lot for me. Normally, my photos get 30 to 40 Likes.
It felt great to see the Likes mount. It made me want to post again, to pull the bandit’s arm, to see if it would hit again.
I recently came upon this photo in my archive of side-by-side bridges in Ohio, one from the 1820s and the other from the 1930s. I made the photo in 2011 as I explored the National Road and US 40 across Ohio. Shortly after returning I uploaded a ton of trip photos to Flickr, but never this one. I decided I wanted to use it in my ongoing series of posts about bridges; you saw it here just the other day. Its colors were dull, so I punched them up in Photoshop. I made the photo a little too red, I think. But Flickr’s algorithms noticed it, and included it in the Explore feature on December 31st.
Flickr Explore delivered 4,041 views (so far) to this photograph! You’d think that should have felt better than 90 Likes on my Instagram post. It did feel good. But it was more like passing delight as the notifications started hitting. I felt absolutely no compulsion to post something else interesting to Flickr to try to get that Explore sugar again.
Both a well-liked Instagram image and being chosen for Flickr Explore are like finding a forgotten 20-dollar bill in your coat pocket. It happens when it happens.
But you have the illusion of influence on Instagram. You think that if you just post the right photo, it will pay off again. You know it doesn’t work that way on Flickr, so you don’t try. You just share what you share, and feel delighted when you’re lucky enough to make Explore.
Instagram is manipulating its users. I want my Internet experience to involve less being manipulated.