Here’s the photo that won me some awesome swag from the TechCrunch Disrupt contest, which is just swell (reality). I can’t remember the last time I won a contest, apart from a raffle that one summer I went to camp in Maine in which I won a date with a counselor. I was eleven years old and too clueless to realize how deeply inappropriate it all was – but at least I had the sense to pick the really, really hot British guy.
Anyway, this was the general blurb/CTA for the contest:
Do you have the courage to break rules in the name of innovation? Drastically rupture the status quo? Do you want to see tech done better? Are you the best Instagram-er out there? We want to see what “disrupt” really means to our readers. That’s why we’ve created a three-part social media contest for you to show us just how creative you can get.
Of these, the most interesting question to me was “Do you want to see tech done better?” – if only because a) why yes, yes I do, and b) that’s a yes/no question so the answer doesn’t really have to go beyond that, which is great because I hate elaborating and explaining myself.
But I should, or I should at least try. Because this question is important, and how we’d want to see it “done better” through disruption matters.
To be clear, I’m not talking about capital-D Disruption, in the Christensen sense. I’m not really equipped to spearhead that kind of conversation. In general, I’d like to think of myself as the eager earlyish adopter that gets to benefit from disruption innovation without being burdened by the challenge of making it happen. It’s kind of the equivalent of just being here for the food.
No, I’m talking about plain and simple disruption – on the level of shaking things up, to dispel illusions and re-assess the state of things. I’m also not referring to what tech is trying to do to other industries, but to disrupting the tech industry itself.
Yes, it’s a wolf in meritocracy-sheep’s clothing. Despite some talk about “opportunity” and Peter Thiel paying kids to drop out of school and the goddamn Silicon Valley American Dream, the tech world is still obsessed with credentialing, primarily through brand-name education. There’s also some kind of perverse entrepreneurial street cred that idolizes coked-out hoodie-wearing billionaire pervs (I promise that’s not even a Zuck reference), which to me is just using bitcoins and success to excuse away style-lessness and pretend that not wanting to try is the same thing as “not caring.”
These are just a couple of the bigger problems we need to “disrupt” when it comes to tech, and I do hope we’ll work through them, though I can’t tell you how we should do it. I’ll leave that to better minds. But if I may, I’d like to impart an admittedly trivial yet meaningful way we can improve the tech community.
WE NEED TO SHARE BETTER INSTAGRAM PHOTOS.
No, but actually. This is what the current assortment of tech-related feeds looks like:
- randos in conference badges corralled together in front of booths and signage
- candid product shots (e.g. “and this is how it looks in my hand”)
- yet another fucking day at this startup’s office (e.g. people in chairs or “innovating” at a whiteboard)
- “look at this thought leader who is sitting on stage talking right now” + optional accompanying influencer panel, often followed by…
- …a really important slide that’s being projected on stage at this conference, that may or may not be just a goddamn company logo
And finally (and perhaps most depressingly):
- “tech parties are so cool, hey take a picture of me at this club with all these drinks”
The majority of these types of photos are straight up not interesting, even to (or maybe even especially for) people in tech, the community that’s supposed to care. It’s understandably tough to inspire a whole lot of artistry if your subject is usually two middle-aged white dudes wearing matching lanyards (womp). But we have to try. Let’s try to make our photos more interesting and enjoyable to look at. Let’s maybe try art-directing them a bit and find the beauty beyond the confines of the conference hall. TechCrunch challenged us to do this by asking us to complete a simple task – and already the results were lovelier, more thoughtful, and refreshing compared to the usual dribble.
Perhaps you’re wondering why I care to place so much significance on Instagram. Personal experience has demonstrated it’s a powerful way to engage with actual communities of people who both share interests and appreciate good photos. We feed our visual creations into relevant and separate conversations via hashtags, which then become crowdsourced portraits of specific topics, shared interests, or even entire communities spanning the globe.
Tech’s portrait is looking a little weak. Why don’t we embrace this incredibly powerful app we created to cultivate a valuable community with awesome, visually splendid content, as other industries like fashion and retail have done? Why don’t we demand the same aesthetic experience we insist upon in product design for our own media? Why is this a world in which I would rather sit through the Kardashians narrating Ulysses than troll through the photos from tech feeds?
Let’s make this one tiny disruption, amongst the many other big ones we need. Let’s strive to make the tech community more artful, creative, and inspired.