The Battle Between Our Hearts and Our Cameras

There’s this gorgeous little red cardinal that hangs out in my back yard.  I always try to get a picture of it but it’s the most elusive fricken thing ever. It’ll stay perfectly still until I point my lens in its direction, then it darts off right before I get a clear shot.

I get so frustrated because I want to record it’s beauty to be shared with the people around me…but I can’t damnit.  Only I got to see it.

I’m more concerned with documenting its beauty than I am in experiencing it for myself.

I watched Ricky Van Veen speak at the Mashable Media Summit where he spoke about this trend.  He showed a picture (seen above), from the Youth Ball on inauguration night, of President Obama and the first lady on stage. All the young people in the crowd, instead of looking at the president, looked at the back of their phones and cameras as they were taking pictures and recording video.

He said:

“We have a new generation that places documentation above experience”

It’s amazing how true this is, and it doesn’t stop there…

Because of the increased focus on sharing, and documenting experiences, there’s now this trend where we might even plan our experiences around the value of their documentation.

Could the ability to check in to foursquare and document your night determine which bar you go to?  Would my twitter followers be more interested in my thoughts on tonight’s movie premier, or my pictures from tonight’s concert?  Would a college student skip a frat party because of the possible negative facebook documentation that could occur?

Ricky gave the example of a girl deciding whether or not to go to a dance based on the potential pictures that she could take and share at the event.  Documentation is actually impacting our what we do and how we act.

We’re starting to think about the value of documenting our experiences, before the experience itself.

What happens when we can no longer sit back and enjoy something beautiful or fascinating simply for the experience? When the things that usually excite us are only exciting when documented?

The questions for you:

The point of Ricky’s talk was about content and regardless of your opinion on this trend, it’s a trend nevertheless.  So from a business perspective, is your content providing an experience worth documenting? And are you making it easy to document that experience?

Where else can you apply this trend?

Photo cred: Todd Ryburn

31 thoughts on “The Battle Between Our Hearts and Our Cameras

  1. I love this post, David, because it’s so true. And I’ve found myself guilty of this practice at times.

    “We’re starting to think about the value of documenting our experiences, before the experience itself.”
    That says it all right there. When you pause for a moment and REALLY think about that, is it sad? Is it sad that we care MORE about telling others about the experience than absorbing the experience ourselves?

    I tend to think it is. I think sharing is great and the ease of doing so these days definitely helps us.

    But should that come before the experience itself?

    I don’t think so.

    1. I agree, I think it is sad at times. The drive to share and connect with others is great, but if you can’t appreciate the fine things in life for yourself without that itch to share always spoiling it…it’ sad indeed.

  2. What a fascinating post! I first noticed this trend when I found myself choosing between sessions at conferences based on how effective the speaker is at giving sound bites that are great for live tweeting. And then when I live tweet, I find myself half listening…

    But I love the morale of the story: Is your content providing an experience worth documenting?

    I’m adding a post-it with this question to my monitor.

    1. It’s a good example. I mean for those of us in the social industry, there’s really no hope haha. We’re so wired to share share share at this point that it impacts much of our daily routine.

      For the general public, it still takes something truly intriguing to get them to share it.

  3. What a unique angle, Spinksy.

    I think that many of us are so caught up in making sure we hold on to that moment forever – more of a materialistic approach – that we don’t experience. It might be because we don’t travel as much in this generation, preferring to spend money on technology.

    I’m more of the mindset of “the experience is what is worth it” and I know I’ll remember it. I wonder if we can apply this to brands, though – are we telling them “Hey, you can converse with people” but not telling them to actually build a relationship?

    Food for thought. 🙂

    1. That’s definitely a part of it too. I feel like people don’t have faith in their ability to re-experience things based on memory. They need pictures and content to remind them of their experience. Great point…

  4. David – What a great post. I had this realization when I was in Ireland/England last week for business. While the whole time I was supposed to document my experience, I just wanted to document it in my own mind and through my eyes, not through a camera lens.

    The worst part is you are so focused on documenting the event, you don’t even remember it except for the pictures.

    1. That’s a great angle too. I’ve definitely also had times where I really didn’t want to document things, I just wanted to relax and enjoy them, but I felt like if I didn’t document it that I’m missing out. Like experiencing something now isn’t good enough. You have to be able to experience it time and time again through your documentation.


  5. Great post, David!

    I don’t know how many people choose events based on the event’s worthiness to document and share it, but I’ve noticed that in most cases we are so busy taking pictures and videos and posing for pictures that we don’t experience the event.

    Since most of my friends take pictures of everything and anything and put them on Facebook almost immediately, I’ve quit bothering with documenting my experiences because someone else will do it for me. I guess that is what friends are for 😉

    I’ve also been in the shoes of Heidi and that is why now when I go to conferences I shut off my cell phone. The most amazing experience ever 🙂

    Thanks for this great post!

    1. I mean that’s another aspect. When everyone’s documenting things, it created a crapload of noise.

      For example…

      I went on a bar crawl with a crew of my friends last week. At least 4 people had a camera, and the next day there were 4+ different albums on facebook documenting the night. 1 would have done just fine. It was just multiple versions of the same picture from diff cameras.

  6. YES YES YES.You have to know when to unplug. This is one of the many reasons I left Facebook. And, I have to admit, I don’t regret it. wasn’t using it in a way I liked and felt that I was backed into a corner of sharing things in just trying to “keep up with the Joneses” on all social media circuits. As if it wasn’t enough to have a private blog, a public blog, Twitter, Tumblr, Posterous, LinkedIn and email… I’ve realized since then that I wasted a lot of time weeding through the junk to find content that was actually worthwhile, so I make it a point to keep my filter up as much as possible on all my other social networks and to share only what’s most important, relevant, interesting, or funny (you gotta have a sense of humor, right?). I’ve spent a lot more time recently thinking about how I’m spending my time and if I really want to be doing what I’m doing. Am I Tweeting just to Tweet or because I have something that needs to be shared? Am I writing a relevant blog post or is this just an excuse to share some extraneous lyric or photo? I need to spend more time in the moment rather than trying to document the moment. In fact, I think we all should.

    1. Right on. I think as people become sources of content for their own networks, they have a responsibility to think about what they’re sharing and whether or not it’s actually valuable and worth sharing.

      It’s very easy to share now, and everyone can do it…but that doesn’t mean you need to share everything all the time.

  7. David-

    I first experienced this phenomenon firsthand at my step-sister’s wedding. I had had my Canon Rebel Xti for about 4 months and was really getting the hang of how to get photos I could be proud of from it. I found myself over the course of the weekend assuming more the role of an additional photographer than an actual participant. I’ve actually moved into the opposite direction in choosing my engagements: if it’s something that I want to experience, I go in with an unplugged mindset so I can truly experience it.

    This gives me less material to write/post/tweet about, but I find it to be more rewarding, personally. However, from a business standpoint I think you’re right on the money: if you’re not providing something that can/will spark conversation, you may be passed over for someone/thing that will.

    1. I feel your pain. I’ve recently gotten a canon rebel t1i and have been bringing it to every event I go to. Now my friends actually ask me to bring my camera to events so I can document it with quality photos. I bring it to networking events and parties. Before I knew it, I was more concerned about getting good pictures of these events and putting them online, than networking and actually participating at the events.

  8. Really enjoyed this post. Makes you think.

    I know a picture can be worth a thousand words, but usually a person’s description of the picture is much more interesting than the picture itself.

    For instance, let’s say you finally get that picture of that cardinal (I know you will!). It’s your white whale. When showing that picture to others, they say “What a pretty cardinal.” But now add in your personal experience behind getting that picture and it becomes so much more than just a cardinal. Without personal experience you wouldn’t have the entertaining backstory. You’d just have a cardinal.

    Don’t create something because you want people to mention it…create something because you want people to talk about it and experience it.

    Sorry to keep going on a tangent, but entertainment is another great example. When you see a show, you’re experiencing it. If people ask you, “How was the movie/play/concert?” and you show them a picture of it or post a foursquare update, they’ll say “Are you even listening to me?” Personal experience first, then document.

    1. Very interesting…

      Your point reminds me of another concept. One that certainly isn’t engrained in the general public nearly as much as it is in the tech space, but worth mentioning. I asked a friend what they were doing and they responded “Check my foursquare”.

      It begs the question, is documentation not just changing the way we experience things, but also the way we interact and share our experiences?

      1. I’d say it definitely changes and, in a lot of ways, hurts the way we interact. Sure, it’s easier to interact with a greater number of people because of these technologies, but there is a great deal of content and context lost is relying on a fourquare update, tweet, and a couple of photos to communicate an experience.

        You want to know how a friend is doing, you leave them a message on their cell and they respond by texting you back – that’s damaging to the relationship because it stunts the depth of information that you’re looking for (unless it’s something like “i’ll call you later”)

        Relationships and communications within those relationships are built upon emotions and behaviors. A lot of that can be lost in these new technologies if that’s what we rely on as our most important channels.

  9. This concept of the documentation of the experience being more important than the experience itself, was impressed on me many years ago at Lake Tahoe; at a scenic overlook above Emerald Bay, I watched stunned, as a car load, a minvan load and a busload of Japanese tourists jumped out of their vehicles, madly clicked their cameras, and jumped back in, to drive away in under 5 minutes!

    (Admission: I have on occasions been guilty of this myself, as a professional film documentary maker. Perhaps my very best example of this (or worst, depending on your perspective), was filming a sinking boat before calling the Coast Guard, while making a documentary on antique wooden speedboats (such a great story…….and really no lives were in danger….he could swim…..). Once the exciting part was ‘in the can’, and the coast guard finally alerted; one of the film crew did swim out to the sinking boat and offer to help bail it out. Irony; though I didn’t know it at the time, the person driving the boat was to become my future biz partner 🙂

    Now to answer your question: fast-forward 20-some years. Same biz partner (!), and last week he was moving heavy objects; objects more suitable to be moved by 2 or 3 people. Even though I had lined up help, ready willing, and able; help was declined. When I asked why, he said “it’s a game”……. and I said, “do you mean a game of how much you can do all by yourself, without asking for help and without killing yourself”? He replied, “it’s one of my games of life”. And yes, this is a repeat scenario. However it led me to think how many people are playing video games rather than having true life experiences, playing the “games of life”. Though I don’t particularly recommend this macho weightlifting ‘game’, I do think it’s important to experience the games of life rather than get caught up in playing ‘virtual’ games. The consequences are much more valid and great subject matter for posts or comments.

    Good luck getting your ‘Cardinal’ bird shot. This eagle shot took me 9 years to get 🙂

    1. Wow that is an amazing picture!!!

      Your point about video games is interesting to me as I’ve been a gamer my entire life. Since middle school, I’ve played online video games which means my social interaction has been within virtual worlds for some time now.

      I wonder how documentation plays into this. We follow people’s lives based on what they document, where we can vicariously share their experiences. How much time do we spend online today following other people’s lives and experiences, rather than experiencing things for ourselves?

  10. Also when I think of it, I am spending over 30% of my socializing with twitter friends rather then the 100% (of a coupe of years ago) with REAL LIFE friends. Though the lines do cross and twitter friends become the Real Life kind. But I know that many people on Social networks are spending closer to 100% with virtual/online friends instead of Real Life socializing. This discussion certainly makes me want to direct extra effort to the Real Life friends experience; and more using the online socializing as a means to more Real life experience, rather then a substitute for it.

  11. David, I say… set up a tripod and get that picture of the Cardinal. There is nothing wrong with spreading good feelings and it will make you feel a great sense of accomplishment to finally get that shot.

    The interpretation I take away from this article is whether you are creating artistry that is of value to you and others or whether you are just stroking your ego.

    Keep Sharing David

  12. Don’t you notice that feeling of documentation verses experience almost all the time know. As bloggers we tend to develop a certain lens with which we look at our daily happenings. Sometimes I’m paralyzed with the not being able to decide whether I should just keep gawking or pull out my iPhone and start blogging about it.

  13. Your cardinal situation sounds like me and this yellow and black striped butterfly by my apartment. I’ve given up on her. Now I just enjoy her presence in the mornings 🙂 Nice post.

  14. David – I like this argument: removing yourself from the moment for the sake of art. I suppose it depends what you are doing and why. I wouldn’t call my ramblings “art”…for me, though, it was therapy. I NEEDED to step out of my life where I was ill, getting divorced and getting depressed…and instead focused on the funny BS I could observe. So now I write about Asian Squid porn, my ex-husband, my self-esteem issues, my psychotic cat…It’s not a lie, it’s just a different perspective.

  15. Interesting take. Committing yourself to the practice of observation and documentation. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Just seems that it’s becoming the norm.

  16. It’s an interesting point – and for me, I rarely do much social media while traveling or having what I consider significant experiences.

    BUT, when I travel, much of what I see is through the lens of my camera – and I enjoy that. I find that photographing a place gets me to slow down and tune in to the place much more then I would if I wasn’t shooting. I see details and notice interesting things that I would have otherwise walked by. So for me, viewing the world as a photographer engages me in it more then just “being there.”

    Just my experience – YMMV.


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