Instagram stories as a pop surrealist art form

In one of my art classes in college, my professor asked me to explain the meaning of what I’d created for an assignment. I told her that if I wanted to use words to express myself, I would have written an essay. But of course, if you would like someone to pay you for your art, you’d damn well better be able to explain it, at least until you get famous enough that other people can get paid to interpret your art for you.

And that’s why I didn’t pursue art as a profession.

Looking back over the 20 years since then, the common theme in my art is not having the words to express, and sublimating those ideas and emotions directly into images. My techniques revolve around various forms of found objects: of course photography but also expanding into photomontage (gifmontage?), found negatives, and fashion.

Fashion may seem like a weird thing to include here, and the topic is often trivialized. Interest in fashion and makeup is most commonly associated with women and minorities with less of a voice, for which it becomes deeply meaningful to be able to express yourself through your appearance.

I started using Instagram stories to document my outfits in a non-serious or particularly permanent way, but really it was an escape from the intensity of twitter after the 2016 presidential election. Despite the decidedly trivial beginnings, the medium has evolved into something much deeper for me. I’ve come to think of it as my personal zine and the safest place to construct an identity in my increasingly fractured, tortured set of social networks.

Surrealism seeks to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind by embracing chance, which is exactly how I’d describe the process of finding the right stickers to add to an Instagram story. My technique is to start with a scene and first look for static objects I want to overlay with a gif. This uncovers the hidden life and desires of these elements, revealing an eerie carnival, a whimsical aloofness, sometimes a hint of sadness.

The next layer adds an overly literal juxtaposition of images. (aside: I also love overly literal playlists) So far example, if the scene has water, can I add something swimming in the water? Jumping into the water? Drinking the water? It’s very much a trial and error technique to find a gif that looks like it’s actually happening in the scene and fits the mood I’m looking for. The limitations of the tool breed creativity.

I usually represent myself as a skeleton. Not to be morbid, there just happen to be a lot of interesting skeleton gifs. But what appeals to me about them is that they’re the most basic representation of the human form, stripped of all pretense and vanity.

Combine all these layers and you get an image with a lot going on, way more than you can take in during the 3 seconds Instagram allows for gif loops over a static image. You can extend this time by making a cinemagraph, and as much as I love ruminating on a scene playing over and over again like quiet anxiety, less than 10 percent of people view my stories a second time. Maybe a few seconds is enough. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

I think what I’m trying to say is… I haven’t updated this blog in 5 years, and I probably won’t update it again soon. I hope you enjoy my stories.

Facebook Platform floundered because they didn’t have an app review manager

Say what you will about PandoDaily, but their tale of Facebook’s disappointing Platform is honest, fair, and perfectly contextualized:

Facebook’s inconstant behavior on Platform, however, has never been malicious. Rather, it is a result of an engineering-led culture. Facebook’s platform team started off small, and it was led by programmers. Whenever possible, they wanted to find solutions that didn’t require human intervention. That way the operation could stay lean and move fast.

That approach left Platform without a clear set of policies that would have provided the stability and sense of security that is so crucial to a development environment. It also meant that humans had a minimal role in the quality control process. Unlike Apple, which requires that all apps intended for distribution in its App Store be approved by actual people, Facebook relied on changes to its algorithms to combat things like spam and over-exposure for certain apps.

“What we should have realized is we should have hired someone to go and make a judgment call,” says a former Facebook executive, who doesn’t want to be named because he retains close ties to the company. He says the app store, or lack thereof, was one of the Platform’s single biggest points of failure. “The team that was driving the platform was the engineering team and the technical product team. We knew how to develop products, but we didn’t know how to build a payment system or build an organization of human judges.”

I can understand why Facebook went that direction. They wanted a robotically, algorithmically equal playing field, and if the rules required a human judgement call then they weren’t the right rules in the first place. This is an honorable goal to ensure that the rules are enforced consistently, but there’s still a human on the other side of that API, and humans are nuanced. Circumstances matter. Motivation matters.

Say what you will about the US judicial system, but it was also designed to take nuance into consideration, with judges who explain the law and how it applies to the many complex situations we humans get ourselves into.

In the months before Pando’s article went up, I’d heard that Facebook posted several job openings for “Platform Integrity Risk” managers. These roles are filled (or canceled) now, so I’d like to think that Facebook has learned from their failures and is already taking corrective action. As stated in the article, they’ve clearly still got momentum despite the shortcomings with Platform.

If you have developer policies, take Facebook’s story as a warning and make sure you have a high court in place — whether it be a community manager or dedicated policy review team — who can stand up to internal politicians, balance the shifting sands of a growing product, and earn developer trust.

How I choose to remember Palm

Touchpad fire sale

Today is my last day at Palm. I say this with regret, both for what could have been and missing out on what is yet to be, but also with relief for being able to begin a new chapter in my career.

The image above was taken at the Palm campus store during the first hours of the infamous TouchPad fire sale, where the device suddenly became a hot commodity and eager buyers lined up across campus every day for weeks just to get one, and for a brief, shining moment, the TouchPad was the #2 tablet on the market. This is how I choose to remember Palm, being stunned and a little high with the unexpected excitement, minus the knowledge that we were trying to make the best of an unwinnable situation. Continue reading “How I choose to remember Palm”

How to buy a Polaroid Land 100 camera


A couple months ago, I found a beautiful vintage camera at a thrift store. I had no idea how to even open it, or if film was still available…and the $50 price tag was just outside of my impulse buy zone. I copied down all the info I could and went home to research, and by research I mean that I asked twitter for permission.

Dieter has seen this play out before, so of course he immediately told me to buy the damn thing and get it over with, but I wanted to make a rational decision here. Yes, I could get film, but the price was a little high, especially for something that may or may not even work. But once dear friend and smart gadget nerd Greg told me to go for it, I apparently bolted out the door immediately to go snag it. Continue reading “How to buy a Polaroid Land 100 camera”

To buy or not to buy a Lytro

Not a real Lytro, but a scale model made of solid freaking metal.

I have a one-week opportunity to pre-order a Lytro light-field camera. It’s a revolutionary way of thinking about focus, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions, and I haven’t decided yet if I’m willing to bet $400 on Lytro having the right answers.

They’re pitching their product as a solution for the focus problem, framing the technology to make the camera seem more accessible to the everyman. This is all wrong. Auto-focus is smarter than the everyman, and there is no focus problem. Fortunately for Lytro’s marketing team, this product has landed squarely in the sights of the hardcore photography enthusiast (and based on comments on Lytro’s blog today, looks like they weren’t prepared for that). Hardcore enthusiasts understand that the point of this technology is to create a new photographic genre, to use interactive focus to tell a story. Continue reading “To buy or not to buy a Lytro”

On the TechCrunch debacle: There’s no approved messaging for that

TechCrunch is on the precipice. As soon as tomorrow, Mike may be thrown out of the company he founded. Or he may not. No one knows. And if he is, he will be replaced by — well, again, no one knows. No one knows much of anything. Certainly no one at TechCrunch. This site is about to change forever and we’re in the total fucking dark.

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

I still too freshly remember the anxiety of waiting for news to unfold while the house you’ve poured your heart into suddenly comes crashing down, the frustration of wanting to take matters in your own hands, to DO something, say something, reach out to the people who care and ask for their help to make your story known, to say how much you MATTER…

Unfortunately, companies rarely have approved messaging ready for this kind of situation.

Emotions are high over at TechCrunch right now, and the team clearly isn’t going for the standard radio silence PR play and waiting for the situation to play out. Because politics and bad decisions aside, for the people on the front lines, the world they know is fucking solid. I respect the hell out of them for standing up to their critics and saying that, raw emotions and all. Especially so.

My sage advice for TechCrunch? Focus. They will never break you if you stick together and keep telling your story.

Edited to add a comment from Scoble:

Several years ago Arrington and I were headed to some conference and I asked him about how he sees himself. Did he consider himself a blogger or a journalist, I asked. His answer stuck with me all this time: “I’m an entertainer.”

After finishing this post, I was sitting here in the dark of my office thinking the same thing (but without the real life story to back it up). The web responds well to showmanship. Not that anyone should be over dramatic or start shit just for attention — Internet showmanship is a realistic balance of emotional highs and lows, and few are able to take their readers on a journey quite like Michael Arrington. I leave the discussion of whether journalism is an appropriate environment for that kind of theatrics as an exercise for the reader.

So this happened: I was named one of LAPTOP Magazine’s 20 most important women in mobile tech

I’m having trouble finding words right now, so I’ll let the post speak for itself:

“Openly admitting on her website that she is “passionate about sharing life’s little details,” Lisa Brewster proves her dedication with the microflashes of her life that spill out via Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, and her personal wiki. Now she has to convince those making apps to become passionate about webOS, as HP and Palm try to jumpstart the platform. With the tech world impatiently awaiting webOS tablets and a wave of new smart phones to compete against iOS and Android, Brewster’s goal of making developers “feel like they’re part of something awesome” will be key.”

This same page consists of an Intel fellow, a startup founder, a professor…and then me, that webOS girl on twitter. I could understand if this were a post about interesting tech women in social media, but these people are making serious change in the world. Mind = blown.

The world is watching us, guys. Everybody on.

I’ve decided Instagram is alright

A few weeks ago, I drafted a scathing post about how obnoxious Instagram is for encouraging people to use tacky filters instead of helping them take better pictures. I had also just gotten a set of Photojojo’s cameraphone filters, and was more than a little smug for experimenting with glass. Well, I’ve been using Instagram since Christmas, and I’ve realized my anti-Instagram argument is just as short sighted as someone criticizing twitter because the only posts they see are what their friends had for lunch.

Tools are as creative as the minds using them, and the best tools get out of the way to help us live better (inspired, connected) lives. And for all its pixel destroying flaws, Instagram is great at that. Continue reading “I’ve decided Instagram is alright”

A new adventure: joining the Palm Developer Relations team

9:30 pm – “On the ground in San Francisco. Nights here really are quite cool and windy. This excites me for some reason.”

I wrote those words in my journal (yes, on paper) on July 19, 2007, when I decided to fly up for Wordcamp on a bit of a whim. Although my journal entry was brief, it marks a pivotal moment in my life. I remember I was in the airport and going up an escalator to get to the BART station. As I reached the top and looked out over the city for the first time, it was like I’d taken my first breath full of energy and life and possibilities, and I immediately knew that something in this city was waiting for me. The moment was so intense, the memory of it can bring tears to my eyes. Continue reading “A new adventure: joining the Palm Developer Relations team”