My parents, upon returning from a week long holiday in Rome, were asked how beautiful the Vatican and the Sistene Chapel. Whilst they said it was beautiful, they said they found the delights of the paintings and sculptures difficult to view. Not because there were so many people, not because they were ushered around the tourist spot in groups but because they were having to look past, or worse, through, the phones, Ipads and other screened devices in order to see the famous works.
Unfortunately, this is not an experience exclusive to my parents when visiting a very famous tourist attraction. Instead, it is a universal experience. We live our entire lives bearing witness and recording experiences rather than living them. Take a night out with my friends, for example. We have gone to a friend’s house to drink wine and pretty ourselves for the forthcoming night out. Following this, we have caught the train and had a drink whilst travelling into the city. Once there, we have visited a couple of different bars before finding ourselves in a club. We have then ended the night with a trip to fill our bellies with fast food and a taxi ride home. This is not an unusual night out. We have been out with this exact group of friends before. We have been to our friend’s house before. We have visited the same bars and club before. We have worn these clothes before (although perhaps not in the exact same combination). We have travelled on trains and in taxis before. We have drunk all of these different cocktails and colours of wine before. And yet, we spend the whole night capturing every moment. Every journey. Every drink. Every dance move. Selfie with a cocktail. Selfie with a friend. Selfie sitting down. Selfie in the toilets. Selfie. Selfie. Selfie.
Even in the most ordinary of circumstances (six twenty-somethings on a night out), we constantly have to record these moments. And why? For fear that in twenty years time, when we are at home on a Saturday night with our kids, we won’t remember that cold February night out on the town? No, it isn’t that. Because we must show others what we are doing at all times in order to prove to them, and ourselves, that we are having the best time.
I have since been on the same night out again having removed myself from social media and I now find myself on the periphery of many moments. All those picture perfect moments are now boring to me – I now judge each circumstance and decide whether or not to photograph it. My decision is based on whether, in twenty years time, I will want to remember this moment. And if the answer is no, then the phone goes away. Of course, this does sometimes means that I fail to photograph something that in years to come could make me smile or remind me of a certain time, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make these days. And, I have a better time than I did when I was concerned with selfies and capturing the moments. Instead, I live them.
I wonder, however, how many people feel the emancipation of being able to see with their own eyes and not through a screen. Recently, I went to a gig with my sister to see one of her favourite bands. Looking around, there were so many people standing still, zombie-like, staring through their mobile phone screens at the stage rather than really being there. I spent £40 per ticket and the atmosphere, music and staging made it an enjoyable night but for the phone-faced people, they spent £40 to watch a fuzzy, out-of-focus version of the concert through their phones – something they could do from the comfort of their own homes on youtube for free. How many of these people filmed the concert because they will want to re-watch these poor quality videos again and how many filmed it to upload it to Facebook for others to watch and envy?
I admit to sometimes finding myself in the same situation. Last year, when walking along the beach which is a five minute walk from my home (I’m very lucky to live on the coast), I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the sunset. The glorious fire of the red and orange sunset as it streaked across the sky, giving the sea and dark, silky, mysterious quality was entrancing. I stood on the edge of the promenade, admired the wonder of nature and took seventeen photographs. Seventeen photographs that, whilst pretty, didn’t capture the colours I could see nor the transient nature of the light nor the smell and feel of the sea. Whilst I look back at the photographs and remember the evening and how awe-inspiring it was, one photograph would have sufficed and would have meant I enjoyed the moment more.
Whilst I do not wish to preach (as much as it may seem otherwise!), it makes me sad that so many people are so preoccupied with their phones that they cannot appreciate the world around them. They are glued to them and feel the need to record and display their every moment however mundane or unnecessary only experiencing life through a lens.