I currently have 14,566 photos on my iPhone. That is a staggering figure. Much of my downtime is spent trying to get that number lower, it’s become the new inbox-to-zero. But, try as I might, I just can’t seem to quickly decide which of the 20 versions of the almost exact same picture of my wife and/or daughter to keep at any given time.
My grandparents (I am 37 if you’re trying to figure out where your family lines up in this scenario) were probably the last generation to not have smart phones of any sort. My parents have them but don’t really use them like we do. I’d be surprised if either of them have over a couple hundred pictures on their phones.
My Grandmother Olga loved photography. I remember being forced to sit through her vacation slideshows on a Kodak slide projector as a kid. The dust sliding through the light, moving about the same almost imperceptible speed as the show itself as we looked at buildings and city squares from her trips home to Germany or visiting her brother in France. I’d relish the opportunity now, but as a ten year old it was torture.
As I started thinking about the connection between the way we take and use photos and the way previous generations did, it struck me that pictures used to be the gateway into the story. Whether it was a grandparent with a slide projector or an album on the coffee table, the images were a jumping off point to a conversation. Now, it seems that we use them in place of it.
How many texts do you send with an image and less than ten words? Assuming the subject matter was actually interesting, what would your interaction with the recipient have been if you hadn’t sent the photo and talked instead? Would those ten words have turned into ten minutes? Would that have lead to other subjects? This amazing device that can provide so much detail and dimension to our interactions with one another, often flattens them instead.
I struggle hard with my phone when I am around my family. Anything that requires me to activate it and unlock the screen inevitably leads to an instagram check, often an email check, check the sales for one store, check the sales at the other store, if something seems off with sales try and figure out why… suddenly a simple task has stolen 20 minutes from me. Even something as innocent as trying to quickly capture a moment with a photograph can lead to this spiral.
On top of limiting ourselves in the conveyance of stories about our experiences, we’re limiting our experiences themselves by our over documentation. So I’d like to challenge everyone to something and I’ll be doing this myself one day this weekend to see if it’s something I’d like to add to my routine. A full day with zero photos.
Pick a day where you aren’t with your spouse, significant other, best friend, family… whoever it is that you are sending the most images to. But make sure you’re doing something fun and out of the house. Take a notebook and jot down a sentence or two about the things you’d typically use your phone to document and share. Then talk about those moments but you’ll have to do the job of explaining the visual yourself.
Or more simply put. Just take zero photos with your phone for one day and talk about the stuff you experienced instead. My hope is that you’ll be more immersed in the activities of the day as a participant rather than a documentarian and have a richer conversations about those experiences with others beyond.