This image has become famous in recent months – specifically the gentleman on the left holding a beer and enjoying the pleasure of seeing golf’s GOAT in action. Obviously and tellingly is the remainder of the group who are viewing this moment through their screens.
I observed this similar dynamic recently when in Venice on vacation with our family. As we rode into town by water taxi, we were greeted with sights / sounds / smells that are truly unique on planet earth.
And yet, as we stood in the back of the boat attempting to soak it all in, I looked around at the other water taxis with similar tourists. Almost all were similarly taking in the view, but doing so with cell phone in hand. A 360 degree panorama reduced to the 6.1″ diagonal of the iPhone 13 screen.
There are many reasons why photo and video taking has exploded. The instant accessibility of the phone/camera combo is a powerful stimulant for image creation. As well, the zero marginal cost of digital photography plays as well. In the film days, the 24-36 shots available on a roll of film served a limiting function (or at least increased the cost of excessive picture taking). Capacity for thousands of images on a phone + unlimited storage in the cloud removes this constraint.
This same digital power available today that has lead to an explosion in photo taking has at the same time opened up pathways that render such activity worthless. Whether through Getty images, other free stock photo agencies, or even a simple images.google.com search, high-quality professional pictures of essentially any view in the world are instantly available and just a click away.
Said differently, someone with a better camera, better composition skills, and access to sophisticated image processing software has seen the view you are trying to capture and probably done so better than you. This combined with widespread availability of professional publishing tools has made guidebooks and other forms of permanent media available for almost any venue.
We found in much of our travels that if we wanted to capture a sight/scene, we could purchase a reasonably priced guidebook that did so for us, as well as provided additional context and knowledge. Now of course, images of family/friends are unique, and maywarrant the use of a photo to capture the moment.
Why then has the world fallen sway to the seduction of needing to capture every moment?
The unceasing passage of time is both the opportunity and curse of the living. Moments come quickly and pass just as fast. Photography at its essence offers a limited, but very real, way to counter this temporality. An image allows the taker (and the viewer) a limited way to hold on to a single grain of sand in the hourglass of a life.
Of course that image is divorced of the other 4 senses and context that make living so compelling. But a single moment can be plucked out of then air and the visual element of that moment (limited by the angularity of the lens) can be held forever.
This is an amazing power no doubt. And yet, our closets are full of old boxes of photos, or in modern parlance, our phones and hard drives quickly become capacity constrained.
How often do we go back and view these images we have captured?
Much as how the odds of winning a single lottery ticket are the tiniest fraction of a percent, similarly the singularly captured moment is lost against the longevity of a single life. The most consequential moments, a marriage, birth of a child, may be worth repeated viewing. But the dinner plate from a Thursday night outing? Or the child’s sporting practice?
These are moments that are important in the moment only, but likely not far beyond. How much better then to savor them as they come, and drink deeply the richness of the experience on offer? We cheat ourselves by placing our phone between us and reality – attempting to capture a quickly passing moment. Instead, let us live fully and presently, and thereby make the memories that do last.