Every Moment Is Captured, But Nothing Is Experienced

By David Veldt - 06/06/2013

I don't enjoy concerts in the way most people typically do. To the casual observer, it may appear that I don't enjoy them at all; but that would be false. I don't put my arms up, dance in place or sing along. Instead, you'll see me with my hands in my pockets or arms folded, just smirking and watching the band with wonder and enjoying the music.

For some reason, this bothers people. Friends don't think I'm enjoying myself and I'm certainly not as "fun" as I am in other settings. This being the case, I rarely go to concerts.

Last fall, however, I found myself standing just a few rows from a stage in a sold out arena. For someone who likes to be still and just watch, being smashed together with teenagers drunk on Natty Ice screaming the lyrics to your once-favorite song is a new level of misery.

Selfie, oblivious to outside world

It wasn't so much the 7-foot-tall man and his 7-foot-wide girlfriend who squeezed ahead of us, or the brim of the cowboy hat belonging to the 19-year-old tank topper kid behind me digging into the back of my head (yes, it was a country band---sue me) that bothered me. Instead, it was the fact that on both sides of my face were brightly lit phones, held by the outstretched arms of cowboy hat kid and his buddy.

As I internally cursed the advancement of smartphone battery life, I wondered, "What do you plan on doing with this video? Are you really going to watch that muffled, shaky representation of this great show? Is it just to show your buddies to illustrate how you were 'totally there?' Are you even watching the band?"

Why do we feel the need to capture every moment? Is it to remember the times that weren't truly experienced in the first place?

Years ago, when I upgraded to my first smartphone, I recall watching 4th of July fireworks and spending the entire time fiddling with different camera settings and perfecting my timing. I may not recall how good the fireworks show actually was, but hey, check out this shitty, off-centered purplish mess of a picture I took!

"Normal Behavior"

A few weeks ago, during the keynote at Google I/O, Sundar Pichai was glowing over the rapid advancements in mobile technology, when he referenced two photos taken from the same location---one during the funeral for Pope John Paul II in 2005, and the other from the 2013 announcement of Pope Francis. In the second photo (shown at the top of this page), you see a sea of people, splitting their attention between what is happening in the world around them and what is happening on their mobile devices.

Not only has this recluse behavior become commonplace, it is advertised as such. Take for example the HTC commercial below.

My favorite part is the couple in pre-make out mode, trying to take a selfie.

In fact, watch nearly any commercial for a new mobile device or network carrier and you'll see a common theme: People "experiencing" the world through the screens of their phones and tablets.

Back in 2010, Microsoft created an entire advertising campaign around this very subject. They claimed to tout "A phone to save us from our phones." The commercials were meant to be funny, but also displayed some all-too-true realities of face-in-phone syndrome.

This is a great advertising campaign and gave a few people hope for a return to normalcy. I'm glad Microsoft stuck to it's guns in its effort to rid the world of distant, distracted zombies.

Well, hold the phone (pun intended). Maybe Microsoft isn't quite ready for people to pocket their phones, as illustrated with this new commercial featuring a bride and groom who are apparently related to and friends with a bunch of obnoxious, pretentious assholes.

I wouldn't exactly describe that as "saving us from our phones."

Regardless of what the major companies are telling us, it's up to us to make a cultural shift back to what should be considered acceptable behavior. More importantly, we owe it to ourselves to experience life the way it was intended. Long before there were SD cards and cameras in every pocket, we made memories; but somewhere along the line we determined that that wasn't enough.

I've heard of a "game" where friends at restaurants all place their phones in a pile in the center of the table, and the first person to cave and grab theirs has to pay for everyone's meal; forcing them to look up and actually converse. On one hand, I hope to never hang around people so self-absorbed for this game to become necessary, but on the other hand if this is what it takes for people to snap back into reality, I'm all for it.

I'm not denying the outstanding benefits of mobile technology or how the capture and sharing of incredible events around the world has shaped lives, laws, politics and education, but I do worry about how the obsession with showing people where you were, what you saw and what you ate detracts from real life experiences and fulfillment.

So go ahead, walk into a restaurant without searching for reviews. Eat something without taking a picture of it. Enjoy a scenic view without thinking of posting it to Facebook or Twitter for approval. Put your phone in your pocket, because you'll only get to experience these moments once.


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Leave a comment


11 years ago

This is SO true. I don't have anything meaningful to say apart from I think exactly the same thing. Cheers 😉


10 years ago

I love this post and have many of the same thoughts David. As a photographer, you would think I would be one of the worst offenders to live my life through phone/tablet capture. Yet I prefer experiencing life and making conscious decisions around when I capture images. On a recent trip to Italy with friends, every meal that we had, revolved around finding a restaurant/cafe that had wifi so that my friends could upload their pictures to facebook/instagram etc and connect to the 'world' via social media - it felt at times that the beauty of the the scenery, company and food to be experienced was being overlooked in favour of 'bragging' rights.

David Veldt

10 years ago

Your story about your friends made me cringe. But you as a photographer recognizing the separation between a photo and internet approval and actually living life shows that there's still hope 🙂