Humans of Beirut. Humans of Cairo. Humans of Karachi. Humans of Cardiff. And even, Humans of Planet Earth. By now, we all not only know of the brainchild of 29 year old photographer Brandon Stanton-Humans of New York- we also know of the hundreds of spinoffs from the now viral street photo-blog. The idea is brilliantly simple: grab a camera, take to the streets and capture photos and random stories from random people.
We can all also see the appeal behind this idea. It is the notion that we can associate our lives- our struggles, failures and dreams- with the narratives of people as ordinary as ourselves. This has long been the secret behind street art.
And again like in most social media platforms, we can see the manner in which issues of racism, gender and class all play out, albeit on a platform in which we are talking about ordinary characters with tangible profiles as opposed to more fluid narratives. The process continues to repeat itself: a picture is posted, a stream of racist comment appears and another stream of replies ensues.
Examples include a photo of a man identified as Patrick Dougher, whose quote read, “My dad was just a working class Irish dude. He drank himself to death when I was fifteen, but he was a good dad when he was sober. I remember him taking me to a gay wedding on Christopher Street to teach me tolerance. And that was back in 1971.” When the photo was first posted, the first few comments read things like, “Irish?” “Irish huh I wouldn’t have guessed that,” and “he is the least Irish looking person I have seen.”
Another featured the photo of an Egyptian man who said, “America is good but Egypt is my home” and even with a caption as simple as this, many commentators responded by “go back.”
Of course, the redemption here is that comments like these have not escaped criticism.
And yet the question we ought to be asking is, how much progress are we making on the ground in terms of breaking stereotypes and paving way for the more critical view on things? How real are these battles outside the internet?
One analysis of the manner in which we have come to use the internet that I have found intriguing is a video named “The Innovation of Loneliness,” taken from a TED talk by Sherry Turkle. While the main idea of the analysis is that the more we have come to “connect” online, the less actual human interaction we have, we can see its relevance to the social media debates such as those showcased on the Humans of Wherever pages.
How much critique are we capable of offline?
The irony here is that I am using the same platform to present this idea. But my intention is to cast questions whose reflections can be manifested elsewhere, in encounters, conversations, and in the realm of the “real” that has rendered projects like Humans of New York the appeal that it has now.