This morning at the local park district gym, after I’d completed my first four laps around the indoor track, I noticed that a woman who’d been doing a walk/run combo around the track had stopped at the end of the track near the front doors. This isn’t unusual, as it’s the area where people enter and exit the track, but what she was doing was slightly unusual. She was taking a picture of herself with her phone. Now, she didn’t look like a particularly experienced runner and she may have been a New Year’s resolution person proud of herself for making it out to the gym, and if so, more power to her. But then when I came around the track again (it’s a 1/6 mile track so a lap takes me about a minute and a half), she was still there, still snapping photos of herself. Next lap: She was still taking photos of herself. All told, I believe she stayed in the entrance area at the end of the track snapping photos of her no-longer-all-that-sweaty self from every possible angle, then cropping them or adjusting them or whatever and posting them on Instagram or Snapface or MyFace or whatever, for seven of my laps. In other words, she spent more than 10 minutes doing this.
Look, as I said above, if getting a workout in is a new thing for her and she’s proud of that, great. It’s healthy, good for her, etc… I don’t even begrudge her pridefully posting a photo of herself on social media. I’m guilty of that once in a great while, and I’m frequently guilty of posting about various runs and workouts. Sure, it’s a bit silly and self-absorbed, but I happen to like reading about people working out better than a lot of things they could be sharing. But all of that said, if you run a few laps and then stand there snapping photos of yourself from every conceivable angle while other runners complete more than a mile in the process, are you being totally honest when you tell the world you went to the gym for a workout? Or would the more honest truth be that you went to the gym, worked out for a short while, and then took pictures of yourself for a longer while so you could tell people about it?
It’s been beaten to death in other forums that ours is now a culture of rampant narcissism, and I don’t intend to beat that to death any further here even if I happen to agree with it. What I do want to ask, though, is that in the process of making sure we broadcast every event to our “friends” to stroke our own egos, might we be ironically shortchanging ourselves?
Let me explain further what I’m getting at here. If you snap a photo or two of yourself as a little extra before, during, or after a workout or a dinner or a concert or (pick an event), that’s one thing. It’s merely a quick action to commemorate an event. If, however, in your deep-down, honest heart of hearts, the photos became the objective of what you were doing rather than a momentary accessory to it, you have altered and degraded your entire experience. Rather than running and snapping a photo of it, you were at a photo shoot with a running theme.
Related to all of this, the experience of attending live sporting events or concerts has suffered in the age of the smartphone. A decade ago, if you attended a thrilling sporting event, at the most climactic moments fans would be jumping up and down, screaming, high-fiving. Today, whenever a championship is won, the crowd is not nearly as raucous and loud. The reason? It’s right in front of your face, their face, everyone’s face, MyFace. Half of the fans are literally holding phones in front of their faces, snapping terrible photos or – even worse – shooting video of the event from the upper deck. Now, maybe your phone has a better camera than mine, but I doubt the vantage point of your handset in Section 426, Row L is going to do a better job than NFL Films of capturing the moment. In the process of attempting to preserve a memory, the sea of fans and their phones are changing and diluting the memory itself. Collectively, the crowd is quieter than it would have been, and looking back on these scenes in a future era, the phones will look pretty ridiculous. On an individual level, instead of soaking in the exhilaration of the moment itself, your memory will in actuality involve yourself attempting to capture an image of an event when you could have been wholly experiencing it. Your memory will be not one of an event, but of capturing snapshots of an event. In the world of videography, this is called generation loss. This is profoundly sad.
Instead of the cliche “pics or it didn’t happen,” maybe the truth is closer to the reverse. If you take too many pics, it really didn’t happen. At least not as truthfully, organically, and full of feeling as it could have and should have happened. Instead of experiencing reality, we spend too much time creating reality shows. Ironically, while we have more documentation of memories than ever before, the actual memories being documented are weaker as a result.
Miles Run Today: 10
Days to Boston Marathon: 93