Post it. This little expression has taken on an entirely new meaning in the last couple of years. No longer referring to the simple act of popping a letter in a post box, today it refers to the daily (for some hourly and even minutely) routine of sending a picture from their smartphone to their facebook account. Three steps – three buttons or taps – is all it takes, to snap and send a visual record of a moment in time to the public domain. “This is where I am, this is what I’m doing, this is what I’m looking at, this is the fun I’m having.” It’s become an epidemic.
Posting photos is really just the start of it though. It’s the taking of them that’s really spiralled out of control. A colleague confessed that she’s taken more than four thousand pictures of her baby in the four months since he was born. That’s about three every waking hour. The artificial camera click noise on our smartphones has become the soundtrack to our daily lives. Everyone everywhere is taking photos of everything. A million photos of daily life that no one is interested in looking at.
When I was a teenager I went on a school trip to a small island off Scotland, we were a group of 15 adolescents armed with disposable cameras. The teacher in charge looked at us on the first day of our trip as we systematically clicked and snapped every inch of the scraggy landscape: “What’s wrong with just looking? Why does everything need to be looked at through the lens?” He was an elderly patient man, sadly no longer with us. I wonder what he’d make of our rampant point-and-shoot lifestyles today. His message hardly needs explaining but it seems more pertinent now than ever – contrary to recording a memory, the more we all photograph, the more we drown in each other’s images, the more devalued the experience becomes in realtime and the less likely we are to remember it, let alone cherish it. It’s frightening how instinctive and impulsive the need is to snap today. We don’t think twice. Often we don’t even look at the photo we’ve taken – it’s the action that counts, not the result.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the backlash to this frenzy has begun and it comes from the professionals. When Dutch creative director Erik Kessels filled a room in Amsterdam recently with one day’s worth of photos uploaded to Flickr he made a bold statement: “It’s a sea of images you can drown in. You are walking over personal memories.” British hyperrealist photographer Martin Parr recently wrote a blogpost lamenting the trend too: “It is almost impossible for me to shoot a photo where someone is not taking a picture or posing for one,” he wrote. “I’m under the impression that no one is paying attention to the splendours and beauties of the site as the urge to photograph is so overwhelming. The photographic record of the visit has almost destroyed the very notion of actually looking,” says Parr. And he’s right. We’ve all been sucked into the “been there, done that, got the photo” vortex. The scary thing is we’re not just doing it on holiday – we’re becoming the worst type of tourists with our daily lives.
As holiday season approaches let’s try and restore the balance to life experienced first hand over those lived through the lens. Let’s agree to stop taking photos with our phones. It may seem odd at first. We might panic that we won’t remember anything at all and our Facebook profiles might feel a bit thin. But perhaps that might make the experience more memorable than ever.