Today I spent a good three minutes staring at a photograph of someone else’s tampons. They were in a box, of course, and it was actually a rather good photograph, with a funny caption and everything, but still, the fact remains: I was staring at a photograph of someone else’s tampons. And I didn’t really want to think about what that said about me.
That’s the problem with sites like Flickr.com and Photobucket.com, and all the other photo-sharing services on the web — they suck the time from right under your nose, and you find yourself endlessly clicking through picture after picture after picture of someone else’s kids or dog or bathroom remodel, and then suddenly, boom! Before you know it, there you are, looking at someone else’s tampons online.
Sure, people have been posting photographs on their personal websites since the dawn of the internet — here’s my dog! Here’s my desk! Here’s my new sweater, does it make me look fat? — but sites like Flickr, with their easy uploading features and their handy organizing tools mean that we’re now using the web as a place to store those hundreds of photos that are taking up space on our hard drives. And we can keep putting them on — right after we snap them, even — until we gradually build up a little online photographic portfolio of our lives.
It’s not surprising, then, that the response can mushroom into a type of amateur voyeurism. If you regularly read a website — Dooce.com, let’s say — you inevitably start to develop a (one-sided) relationship with the person writing it. You’re interested in their life — how can you not be, when you’re logging on from your Mt. Pleasant cubicle to read about it every day? So if you’re given the chance to peek just a little further into it — by viewing the latest 28 pictures they’ve posted of their trip to New York, say — then you will. I’ve heard of people who constantly refresh and refresh until a new photograph from someone they “know” comes up. Call it curiosity. Call it boredom. Call it procrastination. But whatever you call it, don’t think you’re immune. Looking at other people’s photos is strangely addictive. Particularly if you’re actually supposed to be doing something else at the time.
While I couldn’t tell you the color of the public library on Calhoun right now — a place I’ve been probably 400 times — if I logged onto Flickr.com and saw a familiar piece of tile in the “new photos from contacts” section, chances are I’d think “oh! That’s MinnesotaGal79’s kitchen!” Even though MinnesotaGal79 lives, quite obviously, in Minnesota. And I’ve never met her in real life. Nor seen her kitchen. What I have seen, however — and trust me, I’m not proud of this — is the entire set of 89 pictures detailing her kitchen renovation.
Really, it’s all about the minutiae. We like seeing what other people have in their refrigerators (“Whole milk? Well, that explains her thighs!”) because it’s just more interesting than glancing in our own. Simply put, the internet makes it easy for us to be nosy. And deep down, we’re all nosy. Well, I am. Aren’t you?
Holly Burns (www.nothingbutbonfires.com) has 1,107 photos online at Flickr.com. They’ve been viewed 34,636 times, so obviously someone’s interested.
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