Open your camera roll and give it a hard swipe, so your photos scroll past in a blur. What do you see when it stops? Your dog? A selfie? A perfectly timed shot of a beautiful sunset? It could be anything, but it’s probably not a dull, ordinary moment. Camera rolls tend to look like Instagram outtakes, filled with moments that are good but not good enough to make the social media cut.
Daniel Wilson and Martin Adolfsson want to change that. Earlier this year, the duo—a neuroscientist and photographer, respectively—launched Minutiae, an app designed to document life’s less glamorous moments. It works like this: Once a day, at a random time, Minutiae prompts you to take a photo. You have one minute to respond before the notification disappears forever. You open the app, aim your camera, and then have five seconds to capture the moment. There’s no time to think about framing. No opportunity to look for something cooler to shoot. The result, Wilson says, is a more authentic snapshot of what your life really looks like. “You’re recording what you would not normally record,” he says.
In the age of social media, that’s an unorthodox idea. Technology has made it easier than ever to document our lives; meanwhile, apps like Instagram make us second-guess what’s worth photographing in the first place. Social media, with its like-fav-heart feedback loop, has retrained people to take and share only the photos that will please others. “We call this ‘self-presentational concern,’” says Alix Barasch, who studies behavioral marketing at New York University. “When we take photos with the goal of sharing, it makes us think about how others are going to evaluate those photos.”
Be honest: How many times have you pulled out your camera to take a photo, already imagining the filter you might use? How many times have you deleted a photo because it wasn’t cool or interesting enough to share? People tend to forego documenting the ordinary, says Ting Zhang, a researcher at Columbia University. Instead, they capture life’s big moments—weddings, graduations, exciting nights out. “And then we end up overlooking the little moments that tend to make our everyday lives special,” she says.
That’s a problem if only because research shows that documenting the ordinary can ultimately make people happier than just documenting the extraordinary. That photo from your birthday party? Of course you’ll cherish it in the future. But you probably underestimate how much you’d enjoy looking back on quiet moments, too, like a shot of the books stacked on your nightstand. “We tend to assume what’s mundane to me today will continue to remain mundane to me,” Zhang says, “when in fact, because circumstances change, all of a sudden what was considered mundane no longer is.”
Social media platforms are beginning to catch on to this idea. Companies like Beme and Narrative focused on capturing life’s less glamorous moments (both have shut down). From the start, Snapchat offered a more authentic alternative to Instagram, where a glossy, curated lifestyle can turn into a legitimate business model. Now even Instagram has started to capitalize on the increased desire for authenticity with features like Stories and Live. Yet, in every instance, the push for a less curated feed is undermined by the fact that people know they’re sharing those moments with other people.
With Minutiae, Wilson and Adolfsson wanted an app that looked like the opposite of a social media platform. You can’t control when you’re prompted to take the daily photo, which means you get a more honest representation of what life really looks like. There are no profiles, no shares, no likes. Minutiae even limits the amount of time you can interact with the app, to one minute each day. “There’s no satisfaction in scrolling forever and ever,” says Adolfsson. “The infinity of it is exhausting.”
The only vestige of current social media services comes in a strange quirk that lets you peer into the life of one anonymous Minutiae user for 60 seconds at a time. Every session, Minutiae pairs you with someone around the world who has taken equally pedestrian photos. During my time on the app, I’ve seen photos of an ironing board in Sweden, an intimate dinner in California, and a dog begging for table scraps in New York. Those who come across my photos will see my laptop during an episode of Master of None, a mirror selfie with a bag of trash in the background, a blurry shot of two friends at a bar, and a photo of my desk at work.
The photos captured on Minutiae tend to be boring, inscrutable, and oftentimes just downright bad. Instagram worthy? Probably not. But then again, no one said real life was always pretty.