The uncanniness of seeing human beings where human beings are not supposed to be

Somewhere on my computer, I keep a collection of images of humans showing up in non-human contexts. These are contexts that are supposed to be sterile and devoid of humanity. If you’ve just wandered into my site on a search, that may sound like a rather odd hobby; if you’ve been here a while you’ve known for a long time that this is par for the course.

Anyway, it goes like this: I’m a lifelong devotee of secondhand shopping. Naturally, I’m a huge fan of the website thredUP. (Disclosure: that link is a referral link that’s worth $10 to us both if you’re a new customer). It’s a fantastic site for buying used women’s (and children’s) clothes, with lots of great features like saved searches and such. They’ve even featured me as one of the most fashionable women in the US, if you can believe that. They’re a fast-growing, tech-enabled company that went public earlier this year (more disclosure: I definitely bought some of those shares). And their efficient process for photographing the roughly 100K items that get merchandised to their storefront every day generally results in very high-quality photos of their items. In fact, they have a patent on that photography process.

But every now and then, when you’re not expecting to, you’ll see a human sneak into the photo. Just an arm, or a torso. It’s vaguely disconcerting but also kind of warm and humbling, a peek behind the curtain and a reminder that there are people behind so many processes we take for granted. (Note that the topic of “ghost workers” has come up repeatedly on The Tech Humanist Show.)

human torso with clothes on thredup
Hello, human!

Digital Weirdness

It’s also an example of what I like to call Digital Weirdness. And this one below strikes me as extra-weird in that they actually included it in their Instagram ad carousel.

human arm with blazer on thredup
Advertising the weirdness

I am, of course, not alone in having this hobby: Andrew Norman Wilson has a 2019 piece at WIRED about his collection of human hands showing up in Google Books scanned images. Enjoy.

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