Scroll, Post, Like

 
 

@cyruspenarroyo - “It Just Is”
Scroll. Scroll. Scroll. Double-tap. Is it a problem that students would rather collect and imitate the representations of unknown amateurs than engage the concerns of accomplished architects? Scroll. Are we even aware that the speed and tempo of architectural culture is regulated by the trending feed? Do we care that it’s so easy for everyone to pursue the same ideas or produce the same representations? Scroll. Scroll. How can we begin to evaluate work when adjectives like “great,” “amazing,” “exciting,” “brilliant,” “fantastic,” and “awesome” are frequently used in captions to describe work that is, at best, thoughtful and sophisticated but short of profound? Double-tap. What does it mean to conduct design research when any well-crafted image with the hashtag “#WIP” can convincingly present the appearance of an intellectual project, the impression that something is being “worked on?” At this point, is it less about content and more about ‘likes’ and recognition? Does a separate profile for posting reference material count as ‘research’? If I post enough times and bombard users with content, will it look like I’m actually doing something? Scroll. Should students be required to upload their assignments to the feed? Should faculty be obligated to post student work to their personal accounts? Is it a problem that, with careful captioning, faculty can so easily claim student work as an extension of their own research or design practice? When a course has its own account, who benefits from that? Scroll. Swipe. Why even go to biennials when you can scroll through your feed and see projects, panels, and parties posted and reposted? Is it important to have a platform to share ideas and generate discourse? Are we even saying anything? Scroll. As content enters the feed, is there a line between knowledge production and self-promotion? Scroll. Is work even relevant if it doesn’t have an Instagram presence? Scroll. Scroll. Scroll.

Charles Weak - The Good with the Bad
Social Media offers a new form of expression for architects and architecture students. However, we have yet to engage critically with this system. Below I offer two observations, (One Negative, One Positive.)
Social Media (Instagram in particular) plays with objectivity in a problematic way.
The Bad: Is there any disciplinary merit to an Instagram like? While not a true form of critique, Instagram likes and followers are a way of attributing value to a page which could manifest confusing hierarchies. All Instagram likes hold equal value. But how could we find any merit in a system that flattens the value of approval (a like) from John McMorrough, and the page “Architecture.puns”? Instagram also hasn’t done much for creating new value for architectural images. How could architects place any real value in a medium where professional and disciplinary icons (OMA) can barely reach 200k followers, when the fourth-place winner in the last season of the bachelorette easily eclipses 800k followers? In the face of a system that refuses to acknowledge our value, we remain as autonomous as we’ve always been.
Social Media creates accessible pathways for Architects and Students.
The Good: A better way to think about architecture and social media might be to just take the weight off, and have some fun. The use of Instagram has increased the accessibility of contemporary architectural thought occurring in architectural schools and offices. Architecture's disciplinary and professional identity now exist in one location, online, and in “real time”. Social Media accounts have become our live feeds for work happening at firms and schools around the world, allowing architects not contextually related to these entities the potential to engage in discourse. We now move around the architectural world via our Instagram accounts, curating collections of images, and staying current.

Tithi Sanyal - Instagram: design filter / filter design
In the present day and age, where large volumes of information and data is available in different forms, it is becoming important to synthesize information, ideas, and concepts in a way that it becomes easily accessible and palpable to a large audience. It was just the other day when one of my peers in class informed us that seventy percent of library data bases remains unused. This made me realize that social media, especially Instagram, has become an important interface to receive information. As more architects and designers are getting interested in visual documentation of information and ideas, Instagram is becoming a significant platform in forming a collective through its followers, hashtags and so on. What makes Instagram stand out among other social media is its curatorial quality, where few images with or without a caption are able to frame a narrative and define the intention of the images. The caption also becomes an important aspect of the post. Further, what I enjoy most about Instagram is how one gets to know about professionals including our own faculties and colleagues' interests and current works. Interestingly, it has also become a conversation starter.
However, one needs to be aware that there is always going to be ambiguity in what is being represented. An Instagram post or rather an image is ultimately a singular perspective of the idea. There are a lot of images out there which are pleasing to the eye but are hollow in their intent. Therefore, I don’t agree that Instagram can be a design tool because design, at the end of the day, is a thinking process. The fascinating part of architecture training is that one can identify good work without being brainwashed by popular re-posts, if one chooses to.

Deniz McGee - Six Degrees of Erik Herrmann
As a teenager in the mid-1990’s, my friends and I would often refer to the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” which was a theory and game that emerged in 1994 based on the "six degrees of separation" concept but specific to Kevin Bacon and the Hollywood community. We were excited to imagine that we were only a few degrees of separation from our favorite celebrities who graced the covers of the teen magazines of the era.
Now fast forward to the 2010’s, thanks to Instagram, we are all within one or two degrees of separation from Beyoncé, Kendall Jenner, and even Barack Obama. Right? According to Facebook (who now owns Instagram) we are no more than three or four degrees of separation from everyone else on the network of two billion people.
Celebrities, architects, and celebrity architects are all over Instagram! We can follow and like them. And sometimes, if we are really clever, they like us back. Or #regram us. Wow, I got chills. This surely must get many of us now within one degree of separation? What would 1990’s teen Deniz and her friends think of this possibility?
Sure, for today’s aspiring architect Instagram can be a great way to feature phases of a #wip or drawings and models from a nicely formatted portfolio. It can be a place for well-crafted selfies or world travels (see @bjarkeingels or @adjaye_visual_sketchbook). It can even be a place for posting plates of food or banal objects for the sake of irony. Why not? But, what is truly exciting is that it is a place that can connect each of us within one degree of separation from the world’s most talented architects, prolific publications and museums, our many guilty pleasures, and of course Taubman College’s best Instagrammer, Erik Herrmann.