I managed to use two words in the title to this piece that my spell checker does not recognise. Possibly because I made at least one of them up, but also because in many ways blogging (another word the spell checker rejects) is a process by which we construct a new version of ourselves- a cyber me.
I was reminded of this by listening to a radio programme today about how humanity is being shaped by the digital media. It was particularly interested in the proliferation of photographic images that we take to illustrate and document our worlds.
It asked a lot of questions about how when faced with an event, or an occasion, or just a sunset, our first thought is how to record it on one of the many devices we habitually carry for the occasion. In doing this, we not only shape our own interaction with the world, but we also are creating a version of ourselves for other people- we are curating our own self exhibit.
As the programme described…
…imagine yourself in a picture in front of a staggering view, smiling into the camera. The picture was taken to display your adventure, your specialness in relation to the special place. It is taken to show others your uniqueness, despite another million other pictures taken in the same place. Just you, having a carefree wonderful time.
Because you were there, you know the wider story- the blisters on your feet, the tiredness and hunger, the row you had with your partner a few minutes before. Also, all those other dimensions- the smell of the place, the sounds in the liquid air.
But interestingly, when you come to think back on this experience in the years to come, the amazing thing is that your entry into the memory will be shaped by this photograph- it will be a telescopic frame that distorts the reality towards the exhibit you were creating.
You, on a good day…
Sure, this reveals us (particularly if like me you make yourself an exhibit on the internet) as rather vain, rather shallow, rather foolish. We are making a meal of what is ubiquitous.
But more than this I wonder whether we are missing out somehow. If every event has to be recorded and digitally validated on some kind of external hard drive version of who we are then what might this be doing to us?
Do we lose some dimensions of experience?
Does it distance us from ourselves and each other?
I remember a conversation on a small island last year. We were there to get away from all the electronic noise and retreat, seeking silence, community and the voice of God. Conversation turned to the camera. Most of us had one- one us had 4. I suggested that given that we were seeking to immerse ourselves in nature, potentially the camera could be a distraction, a barrier between us and the place of retreat.
I remember getting quite a strong reaction. People fiercely defended the camera as means of looking more deeply, as a tool to aid spirituality, not to get in the way.
Which it may be. Because these things are never simple and straightforward. It is not either/or, it is both/and.
There is an undeniable vanity in recording your life through photography and writing as I am doing here. It is our connection with significance, however minimal and fleeting that this might be in this age of information overload.
But there are other reasons too- and (unsurprisingly) I feel that these are valid, even if we have to acknowledge the contradiction. I write to allow me to think deeply, to live vulnerably and to seek out God in the small things and the unlikely places.
I am away next weekend to another small island with some of my friends. Can I really leave behind the camera?
Perhaps I will take it, and leave it in the bag for one day.
One step at a time after all…