Restore Humanity

This post got me thinking again.

“Recommendation media is here. As a result, we’ll make fewer explicit choices (“these are my friends”) and more implicit choices (“this is where the algorithm recommends I should spend my attention”) about how, when, and why we consume content.”

The End of Social Media

The author’s explanation of the end of social media and the transition to “recommendation media” is very reasonable and easy to understand as a man who works for an advertising agency (read the article above for more details), but as an average person who has enjoyed Instagram as a photographer, I’m not sure everyone want that.

I think it may be a success as a business, but I think it will fail as a service.

(My friends will understand.) Taking Instagram as an example, Instagram used to have two major pleasures: the pleasure of creating and the pleasure of viewing.

The enjoyment of creating was not only in taking high quality photos, but also in receiving responses through hashtags or friendships from people you didn’t even know.

The pleasure of viewing was not only to see high quality photos from all over the world, but also to “accidentally” find our favorite creators by following our connections.

Not whether they are famous or not, but whether they are the ones taking amazing photos. And it was up to us to decide whether or not they were great.

Now it is all decided by machine learning algorithms. The pleasure of taking a quality photo is still the same, but the reaction when I post it is almost non-existent. This is because the algorithm decides who will see my post.

And I can’t even view the content of the people I want to view in a timely manner because the algorithm decides what I should see.

The content I want to watch is covered up and not delivered to the people I want it to reach, and the content recommended by the platform looks like the same content with an awareness of trends, and is trivial and uninteresting.

They say that this will become more and more the case in the future, and the content will be delivered perfectly optimized for each consumer. Would you use such a platform?

This may sound like mere nostalgia, but for those who have been creating their own content or have been inspired by other creators, whether it be photography, video, design, or illustration, I don’t think Instagram and other social media have ever been so boring as they are now.

We should be the ones deciding how, when, and why we consume content, right? I think it should be humans who make the “decisions” about which content is good and which creators are good, but if the only option is to prioritize “efficiency” and leave even that decision to machines, where does that leave our humanity?

Uncle kissing a baby on the cheek, and people making small talk make Everyday Life
in the Backstreet of Phnom Penh.

Here is a quote from a nice article.

Therein lies a problem: Artists and creators who are the most likely to succeed in this system are the ones with the most mass appeal, which, to an algorithm, likely means that they appeal to viewers’ basest, lowest common denominator impulses of what human beings want to look at. In short, the kind of art that algorithms pick for us usually isn’t very good.

Bully your rich friends into commissioning more art
By Rebecca Jennings

I think this applies to all kinds of content, not just art.
Here’s another quote from another article.

What does it mean when the practice of design has become intertwined with the most self-centered and harmful dynamics of the social web? For many, it means a reluctance to engage in the psychological and emotional aspects of design that are necessary for design to function as a tool for substantive impact. Despite how exciting and affirming it can feel to practice performative design, or how useful it might be in terms of building an audience online, it ultimately renders a designer’s work static and inert, unable to reach the people that design can, at its best, engage with deeply. In other words, when design becomes performance, “good design” isn’t really design at all.

Today’s Design Is Shaped by Likes. And That’s a Problem

In other words, when design becomes performance, “good design” is no longer really design. This means, in essence, that design that appeals to the masses is not design. It’s the same as what Rebecca Jennings says.

There is an app that is trying to regain what those instagrams and other social media have lost. Glass. I have no idea how many users Glass has, but there are no ads, no algorithms, no likes. It is a photo sharing app just for people who love photos. The functionality is simple. There are no recommendations and you have to go find your favorite photographers by yourself. It takes time and effort. But I like it. There are only people who like photos, and the people in it are mostly people who like warm interactions. As a business, I have no idea if it will ever grow into a media outlet with hundreds of millions of people like Instagram. I don’t even know if it matters. But they are doing it because they like it. It gives us the feeling of a big community where we work together with our other users to come up with the features we think we need. I use it to enjoy photo discussions with other excellent creators while slowly posting only my favorite photos. I look forward to seeing how it evolves in the future, and although there are some improvements, I think it is a very successful service so far.

Not only GAFA, but various other businesses that dream of using technology, data, and machine learning to provide services that solve users’ pain points as quickly, cheaply, efficiently, affordably, and easily as possible, disrupt existing markets, grow super fast, and make huge profits are popping up one after another.

A fisherman’s boat with ghost skyscrapers, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

But how many of these businesses can we feel the “meaning” or “significance” of what they are doing?

Cambodia’s “greed and thirst for growth,” represented by the big luxury cars that drive around just to show off, the empty skyscrapers that are being built like bamboo shoots after rain, and the gilded Chinese clubs that line every city. I feel something similar to that.

On the other hand, in the streets of Cambodia, there are small bookstores, small record shops in dirty markets, secondhand clothing stores in former factories, bakeries that always serve freshly baked delicious bread, coffee shops that offer different recommendations for different people, and chocolate shops with unique production processes and great taste, a vendor that serves only the most flavorful soup, and other small businesses that were thought to go out of business during the pandemic are surviving with customers.

They may not drive big shiny SUVs, but they have warm connections with the people near their stores. They don’t have to live in high-rise apartments, they live close enough to meet relatives and family before the soup gets cold; they don’t have to go to a VIP room, they have a karaoke set where they can sing on the side of the road.

Don’t you feel that we are losing “something important” as we become more convenient? What is this “something important” that we are losing as we become more convenient do you think?

A shopkeeper carefully organizes the products on the shelves, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

It can be something time-consuming that you have to go to a certain place to find or choose something, or a human feeling that you get along with someone after talking to them even though you are annoyed because you got the destination or order wrong, or a human connection that you communicate with your whole body when you don’t understand the meaning of a word. In other words, it is not a pretense, but a soul to soul exchange, or something that smells like humanity.

I think that what small companies and organizations in Cambodia and the team like Glass have in common is that they are trying to “restore humanity.

Men playing Ouk Chaktrang, the Cambodian Chess,
at “Ta Jok” street coffee shop, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Growth trap

What’s the point of “You can reach a wider audience and find new customers by promoting”? It annoys me every time.


Kids picking up something precious in the river of garbage, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2017

It directly means without paying I can’t show my photos to wider audience on Instagram or Facebook. And it means they control the audience to whom I show my photos. Wait. Photos are mine, but why can’t I show my photos to all of my followers? From business points of view, it is fucking correct. But from the points of individual person who loves and uses Instagram since 5, Nov, 2010, I have to say they are completely changed from what they used to be and I am so sad. Fuck it. They had a core value and great slogan “Community First”. I still have a mug with it written on. 


Kandal Market from above, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2017

Now I feel Instagram is just a money making machine for a crappy short videos, not a platform for the people who love photography. And that is happening since Facebook bought them. I read some articles about Meta testing subscription service for small group of people on Instagram. And all of these things were intended since then. They are doing great on business. 


A banana man, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2018

But for the people like me, their strategy is completely wrong. I will never pay any cent to those money making machines. And I will never pay any pence to the weird agents from Russia or India trying to convince me at every opportunity to pay money for them to get growth in the platform. They are trying to trap us in a growth trap, making us pay to buy attention and perceive the number of likes and followers as some kind of status.


Lights and shadows inside Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2016

All the photos are creative. And I respect all styles of creativity. Portrait, City Scapes, B/W, Animal, Nature, Landscapes, all the perspectives should be respected. If they set the pay wall? I don’t give a shit. Growth in the crappy platform? Bullshit. But creativity matters. How can we stand to have a system or algorithm control what we create and who we show it to? That’s ridiculous. That’s fucking up to us! Creativity is free, and it cannot be controlled.


Lights through the gap, Crab Market, Kep, Cambodia, 2018

I learned a lot through the real voice and interactions from real friends since I shared my feeling yesterday. I have to focus on what I want to express and tell through my photography and I will. I have to care the people who really like and care my perspective and I will. I don’t fucking give a shit on the numbers or I don’t serve for the machines. I’ll just chase what I want to express. I’ll keep on capturing humanity on the street in my way. That’s it. People would find me or may not, but it doesn’t fucking mean anything to me. Who cares. I care my perspectives, and only hope it would contribute to the other people’s perspective. 


A boy playing on the railroad track, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2017

Thank you all of my great friends and strangers for giving me your kind words, sharing your thoughts, and inspiring my philosophy. All of the conversations were precious for me. I am so honored to meet you and know you through photography.


A boy at a skate park, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2018

To all the creative people,
Love and Respect🤘🏻🔥


Independence Day, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2017

Would you rather have a fish or know how to fish?

LINK 👉 AEON / 26, Feb, 2020

“Imagine the following. You are living a life with enough money and health and time so as to allow an hour or two of careless relaxation, sitting on the sofa at the end of the day in front of a large television, half-heartedly watching a documentary about solar energy with a glass of wine and scrolling through your phone. You happen to hear a fact about climate change, something to do with recent emission figures. Now, on that same night, a friend who is struggling to meet her financial commitments has just arrived at her second job and misses out on the documentary (and the relaxation). Later in the week, when the two of you meet for a drink and your friend is ignorant of recent emission figures, what kind of intellectual or moral superiority is really justified on your part?”