People are taking more pictures than ever — 380 billion a year, in fact — thanks to digital cameras and social media, which have made photography easier and more accessible. Now, people take more pictures in two minutes than the whole of humanity did in the 19th Century.
However, some people think that this might not be such a good thing, suggesting that the attention we give to photos has atrophied as a result of the sheer volume of pictures put in front of us. Consequently, this may mean our photos carry less weight, and are less valuable.
To put this in perspective, think back to a time when digital cameras were the stuff of science fiction. You first had to buy film, then pay for it get to get developed and printed. Now, sharing pictures is as easy as pulling out your smartphone, snapping the shot, and putting it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or whichever social network you may prefer.
There’s also the emotional value to consider. Film can only capture a very limited amount of pictures, so photographers who still use film — both amateur and professional — have to be selective. Memory cards, on the other hand, can hold what feels like a limitless amount of pictures. The standard eight gigabyte memory card can hold 1,907 12-megapixel pictures, and most smartphones and cameras have much, much more memory than that. Instead of exclusively photographing precious moments — birthdays, holidays, babies’ first moments — we take selfies and pictures of lackluster meals, simply because we can.
In economics, there’s a principle called diminishing marginal returns. According to Investopedia, it’s “a law of economics stating that, as the number of new employees increases, the marginal product of an additional employee will at some point be less than the marginal product of the previous employee.” This means that after you possess a certain amount of something, the value of each individual thing decreases as you get more.
Essentially, the more pictures we take and share, the less valuable each one becomes.
To retain our pictures’ value, perhaps it’s not a matter of being more selective with our subjects, but a matter of thinking before sharing. As Nat Burgess, a photographer and writer for GeekWire, writes, “Many of the 60 billion photos taken this month will be deleted when the photographer upgrades his or her phone. A few will receive a passing glance on social media. The ones that catch your eye, most likely, will have been taken by a photographer who cares about the subject, and who has something more to say than ‘look at me.’”