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I was struck by the parallels between Jonathan Harris' new project Today and the experience of using Instagram.

Harris, often described as an Internet or data artist, recently turned 30 and began a simple ritual of taking one photo per day. Over the following 440 days he then took 440 photos. These can be viewed in a gallery and also as an 8 minute film that I have embedded below.

He describes his motives for the project, as well as some of the things he discovered throughout the process. Much of this may sound familiar to an IG fan:

I wanted to find a way to be more in the moment, to be more in the everyday, to understand my own life more, to have more memories... basically, to live more richly as a human life instead of just a work life. It's like it's given me an enhanced awareness of life

Because he ran the project in public, starting with photo number 1, he experienced a community growing around the photos and project, starting with friends and family and then some strangers, and then thousands and thousands of strangers. Just as with Instagram, the social context is at once shared and intimate, and becomes a journey: 

It was a walkabout

Today is about randomness, memory, leaving a mark, personal growth. It's about your life as a story and the way your life is a creative work in its own right. The act of telling your story everyday is revelatory  - it helps you to see more, further, deeper. 

Your greatest creation is going to be your life story... When I reached 30 I think I felt what a lot of people feel like when they reach 30... which is that maybe your life isn't the way you thought it would be... and you think "Holy crap! There's so much more I see now that I didn't see"

The project has only increased my admiration for Harris.

30 was a horrible birthday for me - I'm over it now because it was over a decade ago... (thanks for asking), but I remember it being the first time I ever felt mortal. It was really the first moment I realised I would die - and that made me think about my life story from a perspective and a point in time after my death, and to look back over years that had not even happened yet to try and make sense of it. But where I merely went out reluctantly with friends for a meal and got very drunk, Jonathan went and created an amazing piece of art.

He talks about the way the project began to take over - which will again resonate with the IG folks (and their families).

It took on this performative quality... Towards the end it was more like the project was running my life than the other way around

And he talks at length about what the experience has given him intellectually and emotionally:

I use stories as a technique to organise the past, and I think there's a real lack of storytelling now amongst all of us, like we're all living lives that are so fragmented and so moment-to-moment: "What's happening now? What's the latest text message? What's the latest news blurb?"

It's all so moment, moment, moment that there's not enough time to create stories to make sense of your experiences

I feel that Instagram gives you this ability to create stories that help you make sense of your world, and that this is a good thing.  

Take a look at the film below. Count the owls and other religious motifs. Think about the number 440. Check out the hidden meaning... Dan Brown is never far away...



Tim Malbon

Tim Malbon

Tim founded influential digital product design company Made by Many in 2007. He’s a leading voice in the emerging practice area of product design and innovation, customer experience and business strategy. He’s the Webby Awards UK Ambassador and a member of the IADAS, and was recently named by Creative Review as one of the 50 Creative Leaders "driving change, not just within their organisation but in the world at large."