On May 20, 2013, then Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer told the world her company was changing the photo-sharing site Flickr. “Since 2005, Flickr has become synonymous with inspiring imagery,” Mayer wrote on the company blog, adding that, “when it comes to photography, technology and its limits shouldn’t hinder the experience.”
So, Mayer continued, the company was offering each of its users one terabyte of free storage space. “That’s enough for a lifetime of photos — more than 500,000 original, full-resolution, pixel-perfect, brilliant photos,” she wrote. “Flickr users will never have to worry about running out of space.” Not only was Flickr offering what seemed like unlimited space, Mayer went on, but also an entirely new user experience. The site was now a “photostream” that gave users “a vivid and endlessly scrolling gallery,” so that people could easily see what their friends “are posting and what they’re saying about your photos.”
Flickr, in other words, tilted toward a social media platform — of unlimited photos, unlimited space, and a suggestion of unlimited possibilities.
Mayer’s data plan for Flickr (which has since been reversed under new management) was in keeping with a long-standing idea, at the time, that the more we live our lives online, the more boundless potential and endless opportunity could be created. The promise of living life increasingly on the internet was that, in doing so, we would enter a new kind of world, a world that stretched far beyond the borders of the old, in which we would experience never-ending information, countless friendships, incalculable connections, on and on and on to an invisible horizon and beyond. Everything we once believed had limits would become infinite.
We’re realizing that eventually all the data we posted to our screens to help us organize our lives will soon organize our lives for us.
But something odd has started happening. We’ve found ourselves bumping up against boundaries and unanticipated limitations — unanticipated in that they were never part of the sales pitch made to us over the years of internet-fueled freedom. We’ve started…