We now look at our phones more than we watch TV. This may seem self-evident to those of us who watch TV on our phones, especially we who have repeatedly viewed the Mad Men lawnmower episode on the subway to make commuting less bleak. But we finally have hard data to back up our suspicions: we spend three hours and 43 minutes on mobile devices daily, while only three hours and 35 minutes spent viewing television.
This feels right. We’re always scrolling, often idly and reflexively, at whatever photos, wife memes, and vacation selfies pop up on our feeds, and this is particularly troubling if we already have to be online all day for work. For a while, the more professionally shot, heavily edited, and artfully arranged a photo on my feed was, the more it depressed me. Part of this was jealousy and a desire to have taken it myself. But then I found a mundane haven: a Twitter account called Uninteresting Photographs that offers precisely what its name suggests.
Aesthetically, the account’s photos sink under their own drabness — here’s a stack of folding chairs shot from an ungainly angle, here’s an antiseptic break room with shades of Dunder Mifflin — but mentally, they provide the equivalent of logging off without actually unplugging. The more an image doesn’t resemble the airbrushed, hyper-styled content that I scroll past on Instagram, the sweeter it is to me, like a completely ordinary fleet of clothes hangers or a static shot of an empty computer lab.
Since starting up six months ago, the account, which has a modest 4,700 followers, has sent out nearly 2,000 non-cursed, unironic photos, each one at the top of the hour. They tend to follow certain patterns. Hotel conferences, parking lots, and suburban strip malls establish a homeostasis that’s randomly broken by a pair of loafers or a remote control. Stale office interiors get a lot of shine, too, packed with corporate furniture, off-white walls, and lots of copiers. In fact, the more sterile the image, the more soothing I find it.
But that wasn’t quite the creator’s intent. I DMed the man behind the account to learn more. Though he wouldn’t give me his name, he said he’s a freelance writer and editor based in Queens. He told me a story about temping in an old office in 2002. “When I walked into the building and saw all the decades-old desks and fixtures under fluorescent lighting, I felt despair so intense that the sensation recurs like malaria whenever I walk into an office of any kind,” he wrote. “So I guess I wanted to make a photography feed that inspires that same feeling.”
What haunts me about the glossy images that power the web is the nagging suspicion that if I tried just a bit harder — if I learned how to use the high-grade camera built into my phone, downloaded free editing apps, and just observed more — I could take some real prize shots of my own. Uninteresting Photographs, however, does not reflect my own insecurities back at me. An old leather couch looks as dull on the screen as it does in real life, and I take comfort in that. Others do, too.
“A lot of people have said they find the feed soothing or nostalgic, and I often pretend to be annoyed or not to understand, just to be funny. But here's the thing: I UNDERSTAND THEM COMPLETELY,” the creator wrote. He typically lifts the pics from unedited photo dumps across the web “with twinges of remorse,” and he admitted to getting nostalgic himself at some of the shots. “But,” he qualified, “that's kind of a sad, enduring side effect of having been raised in suburban American wastelands.”
The Uninteresting Photographs feed reminds me of so many individual things that they all seem to cancel each other out, leaving me pacified and refreshed that what I’m seeing is, for once, real. It lies just offscreen. But if you’re stuck at your desk or on a train, there’s only 59 more minutes until the next photo in the feed.