The mistake most make in reading Flusser is assume that he’s talking about photography. Yes, he is, but that’s the least relevant part. Imagine, instead, that everything he’s saying about photography he’s saying about the digital. This requires an act of imaginative translation on our part, but once you make that leap, you realize that this 1983 text astonishingly directly addresses our situation some three decades later. For instance, Flusser claimed that the camera was the ancestor of apparatuses, which are in the process of “robotizing all aspects of our lives, from one’s most public acts to one’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires.” And when we look at social media — from blogs, to Twitter, to Facebook, and to Instagram — we can see he was correct. The Twitter game is like Wittgenstein’s language games; we must learn the rules in order to play. Obeying such rules — going with the apparatus instead of against it — results in victories, substantiated by gains in followers and retweets. Failure to follow the rules (there are no official rules, actually, only a set of community-based standards that most players unquestioningly follow) results in isolation: loss of followers and tweets that go unretweeted. When we tweet, the 140-character constraint determines the form of our content, forcing us to tailor/robotize our production in order to comply with the Twitter apparatus.
Like the camera, the Twitter apparatus coerces/seduces us to tweet, and we dutifully obey. Once we’re hooked into the game, we become compulsive: the more we tweet, the more we enrich the program, thereby increasing its standing within the larger social media apparatus and ultimately, boosting Twitter’s share price. In Flusserian terms, it doesn’t really matter what we tweet (content); it just matters that we keep tweeting (apparatus). In his thinking, Flusser was obviously influenced by McLuhan’s medium as message, but we can read through the digital: When McLuhan claims that the “content of any medium is always another medium,” Flusser might reframe this as “the content of any medium is always the series of apparatuses that produced it.”
In fact, content plays no role whatsoever in Flusser’s writing. A photograph is not a carrier of memories — your baby pictures are interchangeable with a million other baby pictures — but a predetermined artifact spit out by the camera apparatus. The camera is a voracious, greedy device, programmed to stalk images the way an animal stalks prey: the camera smells blood and (literally) snaps. Like Twitter, the more you shoot, the more you become addicted to the photographic apparatus, which Flusser likens to opium addiction or being on a “photograph-trip.” In the end, you end up working for the camera and the industry that produced it. The more people who use an apparatus, the more feedback the company receives about its camera, the smarter it becomes, drawing more users to its base, thereby increasing the manufacturer’s bottom line. For this reason, Instagram keeps adding new filter sets and features in order to retain and broaden its user base. To Instagram, the content of the photos people are taking is beside the point; the real point is that they keep taking them in order to fortify the apparatus.
Photography is easy. Anyone can push a button and produce a photograph without having a clue as to the inner workings of a camera. A lens on a camera will inevitably take telescopic photos. The program of the camera overrides the artifact that it produces. The programmers of cameras strive to keep their interfaces as simple as possible, to discourage experimentation outside of its parameters. The simple interface keeps the photographer pushing the button so they can produce, in Flusser’s words, “more and more redundant images.” The free cost of digital photography keeps the photographer playing the photographic game. (How many people snapping photos with a smartphone only take one shot of any given scene?) Those photos are uploaded to the cloud, where ever-more redundant photos are stored. Your photo of the Flatiron Building on Flickr is identically redundant to the millions already stored on Flickr, yet you keep on snapping them (just as I keep downloading MP3s).