| February 25, 2013 | 3 Comments

I am standing on a hilltop looking down at the Moroccan city of Chefchaouen, also known as “The Blue City.” An enormous cluster of turquoises and aquamarines, it lives up to its name. The trails surrounding it wind in and out of view, small trees and shrubs dotting the hills my friends and I have just ascended. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful sights I will ever see, so I should be content to stand there and soak it all in. To appreciate every detail my eyes can discern, to relish the feel of the wind on my face and my friend’s hand in mine. To laugh and shout and simply be.  And for a minute or two, I do. And it is perfect.

Chefchouan, the beautiful site of a troubling realization

Chefchaouen, the beautiful site of a troubling realization

But then I find myself reaching for my camera, and the spell is broken. I’m no longer in the present moment– I’m thinking about how I will look back on it later.

Between iPhones, Facebook, and Instagram, it sometimes feels like people are becoming collectively obsessed with photographing their lives – whether for themselves, or for their peers to scrutinize and, they secretly hope, envy. And I have to wonder if the ability to capture moments on a memory card has come to feel like an obligation for our generation. Have we begun to take the joke saying, “Pictures or it didn’t happen” too much to heart? To some degree, are we documenting our lives instead of fully living them?

I didn’t even own a camera until college, and once I did I was ecstatic. But, suddenly having the means to preserve the image of everything I saw, I became stressed at the notion of not using this technology at every possible chance. During my semester abroad this got especially bad – if I saw something even the slightest bit cool (read: EVERYTHING), my hand would practically grab the camera of its own accord. I couldn’t walk down a Spanish street without photographing its every nook and cranny. If my camera wasn’t with me, I felt anxious about all the moments it was missing. How would I remember the things I did that day? And if I forgot them, would it be like they had never happened at all? The impulse to snap photos became constant and exhausting. I was traveling the world, but only seeing it through a viewfinder.

Just havin a ball, and I guarantee not thinking about how awesome it will be to Instagram this later

Just havin a ball and, I guarantee, not thinking about how awesome it will be to Instagram this later

By the end of the year, I had decided to semi-retire my Panasonic for a while, content with the fact that three pictures are sufficient to remember a sight instead of twenty. And as soon as I did, it felt like a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders!

A photo can be a double-edged sword, and while it is a wonderful thing to be able to capture the beauty of the world, I think that is an ability that should be exercised with care. Make sure you don’t let the endless attempt to visually capture life get in the way of life itself. Every once in a while, leave the camera at home. Spend a day out in the world, and don’t interrupt the experience for even a second to observe or preserve it. After all, to tweak the saying a little bit, “Life is what happens while you’re busy taking other photos.”

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Category: Campus Culture, featured, Science and Technology

About the Author ()

Emily is an English major, minoring in Spanish and Theater Arts. A New Jersey lass to her core, she will throw down in fisticuffs with anyone who speaks less than adoringly of Bruce Springsteen. Above all else she treasures the original Star Wars trilogy, dogs, James Taylor, John Irving, toe socks, and Sour Patch Kids. She also loves to run around for extended periods of time and act in plays.

Comments (3)

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  1. Mike Bruffee says:

    You (and everyone else reading this) should check out this blog post by a friend of my brother about taking a step back and auditing our usage of technology. Like your realization about the use of the camera (I’ve had to check myself too), he takes that to all aspects of his phone, email, facebook, twitter–asking, do I REALLY need this, all the time?

    It’s this >>

    The analogy he makes that stuck with me is this: if you have a hammer, and don’t use it but are just carrying it around in your hand, it just becomes a useless piece of junk, that’s also become a hindrance to your other everyday jobs and activities. A smart phone (or a camera!) is the same way: if you have a specific purpose, take it out and use it! Otherwise, if you’re just carrying it around in your hand out of habit, it becomes just like the hammer–a piece of dead weight.

  2. Jeff Marks Jeff Marks says:

    I like to bring disposable film cameras when I’m traveling. That way, I only have a limited number of photos to take, and as a result, each picture has to really be worth taking. One or two pictures tops for each location. The quality stinks, but its a memory nonetheless.

  3. Andrew Lacqua Andrew Lacqua says:

    You make a great point! I went to Italy sophomore year of high school and I remember taking sooo many pictures. I spent so much time worrying about capturing every moment that I missed out on the experience of being in Italy.

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