It happened accidentally.
A colleague and I were eating lunch together last January when I asked how his son had enjoyed his first Christmas. My friend broke into a grin as he excitedly pulled out his phone to show me the child posing with Santa. He began sorting through the dozens of images that he’d taken on his phone since then. My friend finally found the picture, and although it was cute, I was far more interested in what I’d just witnessed him doing.
“Just how many photos do you think you have of Brian at this point?” I asked.
I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. It turns out that he’d recently purchased an external hard drive just to store these photos and the countless others he’d taken with his smart phone.
My friend is not alone. In less than two decades, digital photography has revolutionized the way that we take pictures. 15 years ago you could instantly see your photo on the screen of your digital camera. You could take limitless photos without having to worry about running out of film or paying to have the photos processed. Now that the majority of us have smart phones that have their own built-in digital camera, it’s even easier. We now have a fully functional digital camera in our back pockets to memorialize every moment of our lives.
To me, this is a mixed blessing. Have our limitless photo taking powers sapped the meaning from the memories they’re supposed to catch? When we look at a vacation photo, do we recall the vacation, or just the moment that we stopped to snap the picture? When I attend a concert, and rows of glowing screens of camera phones separate me from the stage, I have to wonder: are we hearing the music, or just watching it all through a lens?
Since then, I’ve committed to taking fewer pictures. Believe me, I’m still guilty of it. We don’t have children, and yet I’ve still amassed a few hundred photos on my phone in the past couple of years. Most of them are of our cats, I’ll admit.
But I’m trying to take fewer shots of them and of the people and places in my life. When my cat rolls on her back and looks at me drowsily for the tenth time today, I resist the urge to immortalize the cuteness with a photo. When our four-year old niece convinces my husband to wear a hair bow while drinking tea with her stuffed animals, I let my mind make the memory, not my camera. These moments are still just as important to me, but I want to rely on my own memories when I think of them, not just a quick snapshot. I choose to be an active adventurer in my own life, not a passive observer. And perhaps it’s a novel enough idea these days that it just might catch on.