I’m sitting here, locked in a small but very tedious mental battle with my iPad. As I flip through the hundreds of photos I have of my time abroad so far, I am filled with so many happy memories: travels to Castillo Pedroso, El Escorial, Valencia, Aranjuez, Segovia, embarrassing selfies, new friends, parties and food. I am utterly content to save the warm glow of these memories to myself, but the same internal struggle keeps running through my mind: to upload or not to upload? In my generation taking photos has become synonymous with uploading, whether it be to Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, but have we forgotten how to enjoy life without the cameras?
If we think back to the original purpose of “the photograph”, we have in mind the stern-faced, black and white portraits of important Victorian families adorned with large numbers of serious looking children, even stormier looking parents, and perhaps a nanny or two. Photos back then were the monopoly of the rich, who used them more as an indication of status than anything else, and the press, who used them to document important occasions. They certainly weren’t taken to share and enjoy (though I can quite see why, all the subjects looked positively miserable). As our interest in photos grew and images became more widely circulated, the age of the press reigned, and public figures and socialites had their lives covered by cameras. But it was them alone who had to worry about living life to be captured by at their most flattering angle, no one could know that this was about to become the reality of everyday people too.
Like the lives our best loved celebrities, the over-publicised private lives of the “selfie generation” barely have a moment free from the camera lens anymore. Photos have invaded every corner of our lives and social media has become our new photo album, a medium through which we document every trivial moment. It’s fantastic to be able to share photos with family and friends so easily, especially when you’re far from home, but need we really plaster the internet with inane selfies from nights out and pictures of what we ate for lunch yesterday? Wherever we are, whatever we are doing you can be sure that we will find a reason to share photos, whether it be #holidayboasties, #postcolitalselfies or #bestcoffeecatchupwithmybffl #edgy. And I truly believe that social media is now becoming the reason why we take photos, not just a way to share them. We want to show our network of online friends that we were at that party, or eat healthy food, or go to the gym, or are tagged in a photo with that person. We begin searching for happiness in the number of “likes” our photos get, rather than appreciating the moment just for itself. At a birthday lunch I went to recently, barely anyone chatted because half the time was spent taking photos of the food we were about to eat, and the other posing for photos of everyone enjoying themselves to upload later. When was the last time you were with friends, or saw a beautiful view, and decided not to take photos and put them on your profile? Those moments are becoming rarer than you think.
This obsession with documenting our lives online is by no means something that effects everyone, but it’s dangers are very real and very current. The shocking death of Peaches Geldof earlier this year gave rise to much speculation on her incessant documenting of her young family and husband on social media. When questioned about this in the last interview she gave before her death, she replied “I guess it’s the selfie generation. People have an innate desire for the approval of others.” How could a life appear so happy on an Instagram page, and yet actually be hiding great unhappiness? I do agree with her; our search for the appreciation of others is a natural human trait, and social media and the omnipresent camera have increased our exposure to it. In our image and photo-obsessed society, it’s not just the celebrities who worry about making their lives look good, everyone to a greater or lesser extent now does this. We have become our own paparazzi, all for a few likes online. And the constant stream of others’ seemingly happy and perfect photos has it’s effect on us too; studies show people to feel more depressed and envious after looking through their Facebook newsfeed as we start comparing our lives to the photos of others. As former Made In Chelsea star, Ashley James, said: “Social media is about enhancing your life and making the mundane look extraordinary…” Her photos from her blog show 2013 to have been an exciting and glamorous year for her, when in fact she was struggling to battle depression and anxiety. We can forget that real life is not always as picture perfect as our profile of colourful photos would make others believe.
I not saying that I have a problem with taking photos. I get it, we all have to act like the Chinese tourist sometimes, to capture those rare or funny memories for later. They are a brilliant way to remember new travels, special events, good friends. I’m not saying either that there is anything wrong with uploading photos (I say this because I annoyingly I caved and finally uploaded a year abroad album onto Facebook a few weeks ago). All I feel is that photos shouldn’t suck all the fun out of life, nor should Facebook be the only reason you take them. Don’t let the photos invade the memories; you were at that festival to enjoy the music, not to pose 14 different times until you got the perfect new profile picture. Next time you whip out your camera think a moment why you are taking the photo, aren’t there some moments which are best enjoyed just for themselves?
Lest we forget how to experience life through just our eyes, and not our camera screens.