Interesting thoughts by Australian philosopher Damon Young on why ever-present photography is a problem. Not too long ago historic events happened — and not even a single selfie was taken by anyone. These days, whatever insignificance happens, it’s selfies and constant photographic recording of everything everywhere. Even better, from the comfort zone of your home you can take virtual tours to the top of the world, without ever being there, feeling or really knowing it. This ubiquity of digital images, says Young, gives pause for thought. What do cameras everywhere and constant recording do to us?
One popular lament about the digital age and this constantly being on show is that it promotes risk-taking behavior:
The ubiquity of digital recording may result in less critical thinking and innovation, rather than any fractious iconoclasm. Constant recording reinforces obedience, and is a danger to enlightened independence, not to conservative sexual mores.
But conformity does not mean cheery goodwill. Corporate surveillance, for example, can also lead to greater mistrust, anxiety, exhaustion. Feelings of powerlessness and resentment well up, which corrupt co-operation.
But surveillance isn’t Young’s chief concern. The rise of private, handheld digital imaging is less about being watched and more about watching: constantly, perhaps obsessively, for something or someone to snap.
Five minutes in the mirrored bathroom? Time for duckface with a bare midriff. Enjoying lunch? Time to Instagram the twice-baked cinnamon duck.
Photography can engage our eyes and mind: framing, light balance, color, timing. But it can also provide an diversion from the mess of life. It’s often not the snaps that are the problem — it’s the restless snapping:
A photograph of a scene is not that scene — it is a two-dimensional likeness. It is missing, not only the sensory information — from smell, to touch, to proprioception, the “inner” feeling of our body’s position — but also the intimate significance of the situation.
Talk tertiary experience… We’re not only separating ourselves from the reality we try to capture, we lead others to believe it must be real, even though it’s just the two-dimensional likeness:
Taking a photo or video takes our minds out of this thicket of reality we’re inhabiting, and puts it into the viewfinder’s safe clearing. We don’t pause to reflect on our feelings or thoughts: we flee to the neatly framed, literally shallow, pixels. Ubiquitous photography can be a distraction from a more fraught, awkward or intense response to life.
So the problem is not necessarily the imagery — it’s the avoidance it enables. And the technology does not force us to do this. It is a human, all-too-human urge for ease: instead of confronting life, we turn away to a kitsch scene with a schmick filter.
Obviously some shots are artful — they express emotions and ideas, instead of shoving them aside. But so many Facebook and Twitter shots are about the familiar semblance of fun; a loud air kiss between bored strangers.
The point, says Young, is not to shun technology — this idea is simply more distraction, in a romantic key. The point is to reflect on how it’s used: to savour the run, or to just keep running away.