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The Triumphant Rise of the Shitpic - The Awl
"Let’s call them Shitpics. Because they look like shit.

Shitpics happen when an image is put through some diabolical combination of uploading, screencapping, filtering, cropping, and reuploading. They are particularly popular on Instagram.

For instance, consider this post by the very famous celebrity Ludacris.


There’s a lot going on here. Let’s try and figure out how this image ended up in its current state.

The image was probably created by the joke account @blackgirlproblems_official, where it looked like this:


There are a few clues that this is probably the original. The text is centered and sharper, and the emoji is more than a smudge of dirty yellow gibberish. The picture of the monkey is clear (and cute!!!). All of the text in the watermark is legible.

Then this meme went through hell.

It was saved and cropped numerous times. There are a few signifiers of this: The text is cut off on the left side and there are slight black bars at the top and bottom of the frame. The greenish cloud around the text also indicates an absurd amount of (re)compression.

Maybe the most baffling part of this is the appearance of the rule-of-thirds grid, which likely came from Instagram’s upload screen. Which means that someone screencapped their upload process and then uploaded that? And the grid somehow doesn’t even reach the top and bottom edges.

The version of this image from @msrjstlf indicates that it was probably not run through a filter at any point, since the whitespace seems to have stayed mostly that. The lower left corner of the picture does show, however, just how many times it has been reconfigured: the “black” in “blackgirlproblems_official” has been absorbed by section of blanket that has been widening and darkening as the macro travels through the wringer.


Then Ludacris puts the cherry on top: a translucent gray regram banner crediting the account that he got it from (though not, of course, the original photographer or even macro author).

The Shitpic aesthetic has arisen from two separate though equally influential factors, both of which necessitate screencapping instead of direct downloading. The first is that Instagram, which has no built-in reposting function, doesn’t let users save images directly. This means that the quickest way to save an image on a phone is to screencap it, technically creating a new image.

The second, more important shift is the new macro format that divorces text from image. Classic memes (jfc “classic memes” what are we doing) had text directly on the image, written in Impact font in a particular style—white with a black border. That changed with the rise of the text setup/image punchline format on Tumblr, particularly on the blog What Should We Call Me, which spawned and continues to spawn imitators. Twitter began to imitate this when it changed tweet formatting to hide image URLs ( from tweets, easing the transition from text to image, from setup to punchline.

It’s difficult to send someone a technically exact copy of these types of jokes, because they can’t be bundled into a single file such an image. Sending the URL where the joke is hosted requires someone to load an entire webpage, which is relatively laborious on mobile, and so they necessitate being screencapped.

In general, directly saving images on mobile is a function that, even when available, most people don’t bother to use or even learn (saving files locally—in any kind of file system—is generally discouraged in smartphone operating systems). Screencapping is just easier—it’s the quickest way to get something from the internet to your camera roll. That’s why even classic-format memes have fallen victim to the Shitpic process.


When you pair the format’s inherent need to be screencapped in order to attain virality with Instagram’s prevention of downloading images, you get an endless cycle of screencapping and compression through uploading. Throw in the occasional filter, or watermark, or regram tag, and let the process carry itself out for a while, and eventually you get a Shitpic. The layers pile up, burying and distorting the original.

The rise of the Shitpic demonstrates just how little ownership there is on the internet: Shoddy workarounds and subpar image quality are a small sacrifice to make, so long as your version of a joke goes viral instead of someone else’s. That the image is a muddled cacophony of compression artifacts and blurry emoji matters little, so long as your screenname is above it.


Perhaps most importantly, the Shitpic aesthetic could very well be the first non-numeric indicator of viral dissemination. Metrics such as pageviews, impressions, Facebook referrals, YouTube view counts, and BuzzFeed viral lift all attempt to quantify virality in some way. To the layman (and, let’s be frank, some industry experts too) all of this is gibberish.


But if you look at a Shitpic, you can instantly tell the level of virality by how worn it looks, how legible its text is, how many watermarks adorn it. You can count them much like you would rings on a tree. A pristine-looking meme engenders skepticism—“This can’t be that funny, it hasn’t been imperfectly replicated enough.” But when you see that blurry text, partially cut off by the top of the frame, and a heavily compressed picture of Kermit below… that’s when you know:

This is gonna be a good-ass meme."
instagram  photography  internet  culture  degradation  compression  cropping  2014  brianfeldman  digital  shitpics  mobile  phones  screencapping  screenshots  distortion  virality 
october 2015 by robertogreco
The Lives of Images Peter Galison in conversation with Trevor Paglen [.pdf]
"What is observation? What is seeing? What counts as “right depiction”? Are images today now doing more than showing? What is objectivity? What does the future of imaging hold?

Peter Galison, one of the world’s leading historians of science, has written widely on how visual representation shapes our understanding of the world. Trevor Paglen is an artist whose work with photography has explored governmental secrecy and the limits of seeing. For his most recent project, The Last Pictures, Paglen worked with a group of scientists to create a disc of images marking our historical moment; the project culminated in last year’s launch of a satellite, carrying those images, that will remain in Earth’s orbit perpetually. The following conversation took place at Aperture’s office earlier this year."

"Well, what is it that the digital really does? There are many ways in which the digital is shaped by the legacy of analog photography and film. Both for political reasons and aesthetic reasons, what’s really important is the fact that digital is small, cheap, and searchable. The combination of these three features is dramatic. It means that your smartphone does facial recognition—no longer is that an inaccessible and futuristic piece of the state-security apparatus. It’s ubiquitous.

Aesthetically, this can mean a kind of decentering, a vision of the world that is not directly human. It also means that cameras are everywhere, and you’re not even aware of them. There’s an interesting film by a colleague and friend, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, working with Véréna Paravel, called Leviathan (2012), filmed on fishing boats in the North Atlantic. A lot of the film would have been completely unimaginable just a generation ago. They use little high-resolution digital cameras to achieve points of view in places that would previously have been impossible: amidst the pile of dead fish, or underwater as the tank is being filled, or looking back at the front of the boat. These are not impossible camera angles, but they’re nonhuman points of view."

"It seems that we’re moving away from thinking about images interms of representation and toward thinking about their creation as part of a networked process, guided by political or economic “scripts” embedded in the algorithms controlling these image-making networks. If we look at Facebook’s facial-recognition and search technologies, or at Instagram, we see similar things going on, but in a commercial context."

"If images become tools, it’s easier to see them as stepping-stones to other things. For me, the fundamental separation between art and science is not an eternal characteristic of science. The split happened in a historical moment. If you said to Leonardo da Vinci—pardon me, historians—“Are your studies of turbulent water art or science?” he would reply (so I imagine): “You’re crazy! What are you talking about? I don’t even recognize this choice.” But in the nineteenth century, you begin to have the idea of an objective image and of a scientist who is defined by being self-restrained, followed by the idea of maximal detachment from the image. At that moment, Charles Baudelaire criticized photography, saying (approximately): “You know, this isn’t really part of art because it’s insufficiently modulated by the person who says he’s an artist.” In that sense, what Baudelaire is saying and what late-nineteenth-century scientists are saying is the same thing, except they come to opposite conclusions. What they agree on is that art is defined by intervention and science is defined by lack of intervention.

I believe the trunk split, at that point, into two branches. But in many ways the branches are coming back together again in our moment. People in the art world aren’t frightened, in the way they once were, of having a scientific dimension to what they do. It’s not destabilizing for Matthew Ritchie to collaborate with scientists, nor is it a professional disqualification for scientists to work with artists."
trevorpaglen  petergalison  aperture  images  photography  perception  interpretation  history  science  art  seeing  sight  leviathan  recording  video  film  processing  photoshop  digital  luciencastaing-taylor  vérénaparavel  presentation  manipulation  capture  distortion  depiction  universalism  language  communication  symbols  semiotics  aesthetics  interdisciplinary  glvo  instagram  networkedfictions  canon  matthewritchie  leonardodavinci  facebook  uniquity  gopro  charlesbaudelaire  newaesthetic  convergence 
june 2013 by robertogreco
Notational: Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable...
"Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them."

—Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices
distortion  brianeno  failure  ugliness  beauity  newness  glitches 
june 2013 by robertogreco
Wired 7.01: The Revenge of the Intuitive
"The trouble begins with a design philosophy that equates "more options" with "greater freedom." Designers struggle endlessly with a problem that is almost nonexistent for users: "How do we pack the maximum number of options into the minimum space and price?" In my experience, the instruments and tools that endure (because they are loved by their users) have limited options.

Software options proliferate extremely easily, too easily in fact, because too many options create tools that can't ever be used intuitively. Intuitive actions confine the detail work to a dedicated part of the brain, leaving the rest of one's mind free to respond with attention and sensitivity to the changing texture of the moment. With tools, we crave intimacy. This appetite for emotional resonance explains why users - when given a choice - prefer deep rapport over endless options. You can't have a relationship with a device whose limits are unknown to you, because without limits it keeps becoming something else.

Indeed familiarity breeds content. When you use familiar tools, you draw upon a long cultural conversation - a whole shared history of usage - as your backdrop, as the canvas to juxtapose your work. The deeper and more widely shared the conversation, the more subtle its inflections can be.

This is the revenge of traditional media. Even the "weaknesses" or the limits of these tools become part of the vocabulary of culture. I'm thinking of such stuff as Marshall guitar amps and black-and-white film - what was once thought most undesirable about these tools became their cherished trademark."

"Since so much of our experience is mediated in some way or another, we have deep sensitivities to the signatures of different media. Artists play with these sensitivities, digesting the new and shifting the old. In the end, the characteristic forms of a tool's or medium's distortion, of its weakness and limitations, become sources of emotional meaning and intimacy.

Although designers continue to dream of "transparency" - technologies that just do their job without making their presence felt - both creators and audiences actually like technologies with "personality." A personality is something with which you can have a relationship. Which is why people return to pencils, violins, and the same three guitar chords."
howwework  thetoolsweuse  intuition  intuitive  via:vruba  1999  familiarity  limitations  mediation  experience  toolmaking  features  featurecreep  options  freedom  seams  distortion  software  design  creativity  technology  culture  tools  constraints  tradition  art  intimacy  brianeno  music  seamlessness 
november 2012 by robertogreco
No Accidents, Comrade – The New Inquiry
"But where fiction generally resists reader alteration, board games take it for granted and depend on it. A fictional narrative remains the same despite how it’s interpreted by readers. The underlying expectation in gameplay, however, is that the player actively constructs a narrative and perhaps even modifies the game’s rules. Meaning for players comes only through the active process of experiencing play. Operating Twilight Struggle’s narrative platform provides a ludic truth — truth through play that gives experiential knowledge using popular, though misleading, historical explanations for the period. It purports to compress the Cold War experience while maintaining some semblance of fidelity to the mentalité of the period, but the chance experienced through gameplay is wed to narrative exposition that clearly embraces a U.S.-centric worldview. Chance narratives help players validate experiential knowledge they acquire during play, but their execution actually inverts the meaning…"
influence  ussr  alternativeplay  bias  toplay  containment  rationalirrationality  distortion  nostalgia  meaning  interpretation  assemblage  narrativeassemblage  narrative  individualism  perception  history  us  opportunity  luck  chance  gameplay  storytelling  fiction  2006  2012  coldwar  boardgames  gaming  games  play  twilightstruggle 
august 2012 by robertogreco
Benedikt Groß – Metrography – London Tube Map to large scale collective mental map
"Nowadays our orientation is very often not longer based exclusively on the actual geography & their landmarks. There are loads of alternatives, from street numbers to GPS routing in our smartphones, to guide us to a destination…those wayfinding devices have in common that they are abstracted projections of real world’s spatial arrangement. Which brings us to 2 interesting implications:…[1] because abstraction means in this case a decrease of information, something is lost…[2] the longer you are using a device the more you accept it or get used to it. For instance the geographical structure of transportation networks are often reshaped to provide users w/ more understandable transit maps. These distortions have a major influence on people’s perception of city’s geography, to the point they get stored mentally & become collective representation of real world’s geography.

‘Metrography’ attempts to explore this phenomenon using the most famous of of transit maps: the London Tube Map."
deformation  osm  openstreetmap  SAX  scriptographer  maperitive  noamtoran  bertrandclerc  benediktgroß  landmarks  gps  cities  transportation  perception  collectiverepresentation  abstraction  mentalmaps  distortion  geography  via:mayonissen  metrography  londontube  processing  mapping  maps  london 
february 2012 by robertogreco
dy/dan » Blog Archive » (One Of Many Reasons) Why Students Hate Algebra
"Would a real person need to solve this problem?...the solution realistic?...using a system of 2 equations? what ways does this problem help our students become better problem solvers?"...problem you will only find in a many different ways just 50 words can fail to square with reality. Why does each chaperone have to drive? Why can't we take 5 vans? Why do our vehicles have to seat the exact number of people in our group & no more?...Algebra teachers sell students a cheap distortion of the real world while insisting at the same time that it really is the real world. The cognitive dissonance is obvious & terrible. Students know the difference. It cheapens my relationship to them & their relationship to mathematics when you ask me to lie to them...Not only are the short-term consequences devastating but it makes that person distrustful or wary of the real thing. Make no mistake. We are making an alien of algebra. We are doing real damage here."
math  algebra  education  tcsnmy  teaching  learning  reality  disservice  realworld  realism  distortion  schools  schooling  textbooks  cognitivedissonance  deschooling  unschooling  authenticity  danmeyer 
january 2010 by robertogreco

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