Among the myriad odd things that the digital revolution has thrust upon humanity is a desire to dedicate vast computing resources and cutting-edge technology to imitating the very things from which computers and technology were meant to free us. Polaroids and instant film were obviated by digital cameras and then simulated by Instagram filters. We have no need to use film anymore! But apparently we do have a need to just slap a layer of film grain over our phone pics. We have a perverse collective obsession with recreating the analog by way of the digital.
One reason for the neo-retro movement in amateur photography is that nostalgia is a good way to cover up inferiority. For a long time, phone cameras were not good — including the first smartphone cameras. The genius of Instagram and its ilk, including progenitors like Hipstamatic, is that they used analog trappings to excuse the low-resolution and fuzziness of pocket photography. A bare-bones smartphone photo, taken through a lens smudged with finger grease and dust, is merely fine. That same photo, sepia-toned and with a fluorescent digital timestamp in the corner? That’s aesthetic genius.
But imitating an old instant camera photo, or a disposable camera three-by-five with a timestamp in the corner — as facilitated by the popular Huji app that took social media by storm this summer — is old news. The next photos we need our smartphones to mimic are those of flip phones: the most disgusting and the most important type of image there is.
The thing about flip phone cameras is that they were truly terrible, more of a novelty than a tool. A phone … with a camera? You couldn’t even attach your phone to your computer and offload the pictures. You could just send them to other people — at an astronomical cost, because cellular data was a luxury at the start of this century. (One workaround I found was texting them to Flickr, so I could then download them to my computer. Remember Flickr?)
Let’s bring some mystery back to the internet. Let’s bring back postage-stamp-sized pictures so blurry that they cannot be identified except in the broadest of terms.
Here, for example, is a flip-phone picture of me that I found on my computer from around 2005 or 2006.
Where am I? What am I doing? (If memory serves, I am falling asleep in my freshman-year history class, but you can’t prove that.)
You know what I hate? Being able to see faces. That’s why I love all of the few pictures that I still have from my LG VX5200.
Here’s a picture from a track meet. Look at that! That’s awful. That’s just a handful of Slender Men sprinting past me. This is a photo someone finds on a cryptic floppy disk right before they are murdered by a possessed 56k modem.
Every photo taken on a flip phone looks like it was processed by being thrown into a bag of french fries and shaking that bag so all the grease and salt gets on the photos and it’s smudged to all heck. It looks like that blurry meme of Mr. Krabs.
The thing about the flip phone aesthetic is that it hearkens back to a time when the act of taking a photo with one’s phone was more important than the actual picture. In an era of limited storage space and fidelity, taking a picture was a very conscious and considered act (see also: the end of Michael Clayton). Here is a picture of when I camped outside a Best Buy for a Wii in 2006. It is the most boring photo in the world, but it nicely reminds me of a very ridiculous and stupid thing I did. The Wii wasn’t even that good! Ah, the follies of youth.
Anyway, my point is: let’s bring back the limitations of the flip phone. In the same way Vine’s constrained six seconds actually enabled more ingenuity, the flip phone lifestyle compels people to act with deliberateness. Make an app where every photo is 640 x 480, washed out, blurry, splotchy, and you can only fit like 20 of them on your profile at any given time.