Interactive

A Follower-Free App Asks You to Photograph Moments You Normally Don’t Share

An app that lingers on the minutiae of your life.

Sample images from the Minutiae app (All images courtesy Daniel J. Wilson and Martin Adolfsson)

One of the perpetual criticisms of social media — especially Instagram — is that an account eventually becomes an avatar, a combined self-and-other preened to display only the good: Shiny-hair days. Curated meals. Glamorous or not glamorous but “rugged” travel. Nobody, the aphorism goes, is elucidating anything particularly painful or ugly; bad moods or breakups or mental breakdowns don’t make it to the feed.

Except, actually, they often do. For me what’s troubling about Instagram isn’t the mediated artifice — which is not unlike anything else — but the onslaught: there is simply too much, and it’s easy to get stuck scrolling, comparing, exhausting. The Swedish photographer Martin Adolfsson and Canadian scientist Daniel J. Wilson, inventors of Minutiae, a newish app, plug their product as an “anti-social media app,” and while that’s not untrue — there are no friends or followers, and you can’t share a single thing whenever you’d like — it’s best compared in opposition to nothing. Minutiae offers a momentary glimpse into the lives of strangers, fleeting and whimsical and a lot of fun. It is, says Adolfsson, an opportunity “to give participants an intimate view into a random stranger’s life during a one-minute window every day.” The moment you spend with it is a literal one.

Minutiae, its name, refers to the literal minutiae of life, but also to minutes: there are 1,440 of them in a day, 60 seconds that many times over in the span of 24 hours. Here’s how it works: at some minute in the day — selected at random — users will get an alert: “Time to capture your moment.” You’ve got exactly 60 seconds to capture (or rearrange and then capture) what’s in front of you. The image is saved to the app; for the remainder of the minute, you scroll through other (anonymous) users’ quick-captured moments, around the world: a pre-Raphaelite painting on a wall in Kadikoy, Turkey, a tree in Vääsky, Finland, a blur of a limb back in Kadikoy, again.

The app’s main screen is a grid of precisely 1,440 squares. Every photo you take becomes a thumbnail, but you can’t open it again — it’s just there, tiny. You can’t look at anyone else’s images, either, except during the minute-span of the alert, right after you snap yours. “There are 1,440 minutes in one day and the alert occurs once a day, so it will take each participant 1,440 days to complete their own cycle,” Adolfsson explains. “Once a participant has completed their 1,440-day cycle, they will be able to download a high-resolution version of all their images — but only their own.” There will also be a limited-edition book, available on a first come-first served basis, “for collectors who want to have a physical version of all their own images taken with the app.”

If you miss the alert and capture no moment, the thumbnail is a black square — which probably won’t appear in your book, should you choose to get one of those — and as long as I’ve been using the app, I’ve missed it often. In my time zone, they’ve lately been arriving in the middle of the night. Whenever I catch the alert, though, it feels sweet and ephemeral to scroll through the random instances of strangers — 60 or 30 seconds is not long enough to compose a photo, I think, and so users tend to point and shoot. The shots are exquisitely boring, which I like; in the end, it seems like the images will construct a constellation of the memory: I was looking at that plant in the fall. At that mustard stain in the spring.

Worth noting: It is, unfortunately, $14.99 to download at the moment, though the app’s FAQ section does a good job explaining where that money goes. “The challenge,” Adolfsson tells me, “was to figure out a way that would allow participants to be honest with themselves and that actually captured ordinary moments.” Maybe Minutiae succeeds at this, but I don’t like it for its honesty, nor for its lack of artifice — I can easily avoid snapping a photo when I’m doing something boring. What’s better is the interconnectivity between users around the globe: briefly comforting, totally transitory. Like strangers passing each other on the street.

Download Minutiae in the app store.

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