It used to be a rite of passage after every holiday: grab some photos from the trip, upload them to Facebook, and see what likes and comments they get. Even now, my account is home to a dozen-plus moth-balled albums of this kind. There’s “france 2008” — a failed attempt to hitch-hike around the country that saw a friend and I get less than 100 miles out of Calais; “nepal”, “nepal deux”, and “nepal finarly” — a gap-year trilogy of cliché that spans mountains, monks, and one misjudged mohawk; and “leeds fest ‘07” which is equal parts mud and obscenities.
But, on the way back from my most recent holiday (call it “Hurriedly Organized Week Away, Italy 2017”) it struck me that there would be no Facebook album to follow. And that there hadn’t been in years.
There are a number of reasons for this, with the first so prominent and obvious it may as well be tattooed across the forehead of the internet: Facebook isn’t cool any more. Other, corollary explanations include the fact I no longer use the site to communicate with friends, and that I’m more wary than I was when younger of leaving a semi-permanent record of my life online. The final reason is simply that I now use other apps to share my holiday photos.
In Italy, I used Instagram stories for day-to-day updates (look at this weird fish! I’m eating cheese! Ruins!!), and WhatsApp for sending pics to specific people (aka, my mum). Both apps are owned by Facebook of course. The company’s tactics of buying up any would-be competitors and shamelessly copying rivals’ features work. It’s why Instagram Stories now has more daily users than Snapchat, and why, despite the fact that I longer upload holiday snaps directly to Facebook, the company still controls them in a roundabout way.
All this made me wonder, though, what’s next for my post-vacation photos? It feels like Facebook’s offerings have grown up with me, mirroring my new preferences for increased privacy and ephemerality, but I’m starting to wonder if I’m just less interested in digital sharing altogether.
After getting back from Italy and scrolling through the photos on my camera roll, the first thing I thought was: “It would be nice to see these photos in person.” And wouldn’t you know it, both Apple and Google offer easy ways to turn digital pictures into physical albums. It makes sense. Most of the people in my life who might actually want to see these snaps, I’ll meet in person one time or another. And despite the addictive nature of social networks, with the sense of validation and low-key contact they offer, photos tend to mean the most to the people who actually took them. Otherwise I’m just providing a distraction to friends I haven’t seen in years, scrolling through Instagram Stories while bored at work.
Maybe killing off my Facebook holiday album is just an intermediary step. Maybe I don’t need to share my digital photos at all. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to order some prints.