The Beautiful Moments

The Beautiful Moments
Susanne Nilsson, Flickr/CC

I read a blog post by writer Courtney E. Martin this morning called The Shadow Side of the Sharing InstinctShe writes about how great it is, in this technological age, to be able to share the moments that make up our days with those who might not otherwise be privy to them.  With the distant relatives, with those friends who we just don’t see/talk to as much as we’d like, with the people who may only enter our physical plane now and then but who enhance our sense of community, albeit from afar and often via a screen.  She writes about how photo sharing via social media has invited her to see the beauty in the lives of others, and helps her acknowledge the gift that others have in being able to see those beautiful moments.

But she also acknowledges a shadow side to all this sharing.

I was recently sitting around at a lake with my in-laws, feet submerged in the cooling water, watching the dog roll around in the sand and my daughter’s gaggle of sweet cousins show her the frogs they’d caught, when I felt myself pulled from being present. Should I go grab my iPhone from the house and snap a few photos? It’s not that it was a bad thought. In fact, I decided to keep my butt in the chair and just enjoy. The existence of the thought itself changed my experience of that moment, as it does so many these days.

On one level, I simply live my life, but on another, I dip in and out of observing myself living my life with a curatorial eye.

Somehow I have made it well into the year 2015 without a smartphone.  I have a regular “call and text only” mobile phone, and it serves me just fine.  I am on the computer all day long for work, so the thought of spending even more time in front of a screen, no matter how tiny, is not appealing in the least.   But….but someone gave our family an old iPhone about a year ago.  It can’t be used to make phone calls but you can use it like a camera.  And if you are in range of a WiFi connection, you can log into Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.

About 50% of the time, I find myself taking the iPhone with me when we go out, just to be able to snap a photo or two.  After all, my daughter is 3, which is a really cute age, and she does all kinds of things that are photo worthy.  Plus it’s nice to have some pictures of things that happen outside of the living room — we live in an area that boasts plenty of breathtaking scenery.  I have a slight obsession of taking pictures of plants, the garden and food, and I have fun setting up shots in artful ways to capture the feeling of the moments and places that mean so much to me.  Like Ms. Carver writes, these aren’t bad things.  But taking pictures of them often times quite effectively plucks me right out of the moment.  As I try to capture it with a camera, I step outside of it, and its energy immediately changes.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that I have all of these photos from the past year, of Eva swimming and playing outside and the garden and people that I love.  I’d have far fewer photos had the iPhone not come along, as our other camera is a digital SLR, which takes amazing pictures but is big and bulky and not something that is easy to just stick in my pocket on a hike.  However, I think there’s a fine line to walk, and I think I need to stay mindful some of the subtleties that drive why I share them.

Carver goes onto say,

If I’m being really honest, the sharing of those photos says something about me that I want to be said. It’s subtle, to be sure. It’s not like I’m posting pictures of a newly procured designer purse, but it’s a status symbol of sorts nonetheless.

So the capturing is part of the shadow side of the incessant documenting — this instinct to make permanent what is inherently fleeting. It pulls you out of the moment, makes you less present to the people you are actually surrounded by and spending precious time with. Another part of the shadow is the calculated, even if subconsciously, curation of the you that exists in public.

On one level, I share all of these photos on various channels to keep my friends and family in the loop: My brother who lives in Colorado and my parents who live a five hour drive away don’t get to see our day to day as much as they or I would like.  I like spreading my love of growing organic food and getting out into nature because I think those things are essential to the wellbeing of all life on the planet and you just never know when a nice photo will inspire someone to do something positive.  In this day and age, part of inspiring others is sharing pictures of doing things that you deem important.  But I don’t want to get sucked into relying on other’s responses to what’s shared to boost my sense of self.  And I don’t want to take so many photos that I don’t actually remember how I felt in the moments that I was trying so hard to capture.

It [the constant ability to share] seduces us into spending even more time selecting the parts of our days, of our lives, of our very selves that tell the story we want to tell to the world.

This can be a creative act, a celebratory act, an act of connection across distance and time. It can also be an act that pulls us out of the moment and out of the rare bliss that is unselfconscious and fully absorbed existence. Taken to the extreme, there aren’t enough “likes” in the universe for that kind of loss.