Impressed Algorithms

By Nick Hoobin

Illustration and Flash Fiction

Impressed Algorithms illustration by Nick Hoobin

On a warm afternoon, at a busy park, there could be heard the sound of a phone camera snapping photos. The photographer walked around the park with selfie stick in hand. Every few minutes she’d find the perfect subject matter, frame the shot, strike a pose, and let technology take care of the rest.

She’s not taking selfies to fulfill some narcissistic need—which others who wrongfully project their prejudices upon her would believe. Instead she’s intrigued by other people’s stories. She has a message, a goal, a purpose. She finds people who have nothing, who have been affected by inequality. She interviews them and documents their hardship, before capturing their insecurities with a photo.

She posts her project to her followers. Social media—all media—comes and goes, but her followers remain steady. They may be small in number, but they’re reliable and engaged. By sharing her subject’s stories she’s raising awareness, causing discussion, and hopefully inspiring her audience to take action.

Today she had her biggest break. At first it was noticed by one of her followers. They pointed out something peculiar in the corner of the first photo. In the next photo the anomaly was slightly bigger. Each photo in the timeline revealed more of the object until it filled the whole image. It was a gallon-sized zipper-locking bag. Not only was it a photobombing plastic bag, its sole contents were a normal pristine baseball.

She didn’t remember the bag being there in the park, nor did the subjects of her photos. After all, she’d remember if it passed in front of the camera. But the reality of the situation didn’t matter. Her followers were obsessed with this bag and this baseball. They talked about it, spawned hashtags, brought in friends. The activity impressed the algorithms so her project appeared on more timelines, which led to more activity. Her project was trending.

The audience was obsessed, not with the message of inequality, but with the material objects and doctored reality. The photographer was rightly upset, and considered taking a break from her online presence. But she knew that popularity is fleeting, and soon no one cared anymore. The activity around #BaseballBag faded. She could go back to her core followers and continue to collect stories and refine her message. The photographer returned to the embrace of relative obscurity. Lonely, relative obscurity.

$25

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