I was listening to the radio on my way home from work the other day. I know it’s crazy not to listen to music that I spent hours selecting and illegally downloading off the internet, but sometimes I like to listen to news or talk. On this station, they were discussing the idea of documenting every aspect of a life. People spend all sorts of time photographing and taking videos of their lives. These photos and videos make great memories, and they are nice to share with family and friends. The woman on the radio argued that this fanatical over documenting that people do doesn’t allow them to actually live in the moment. Instead of being the person in the moment, you become the person documenting the moment.
I have to say, the idea of living in the moment and not documenting it is not a new concept to me. Most of the reason that I almost never photograph a moment or record something to video is because I want to actually enjoy the moment, live in it. Now, I don’t think that taking a 30 second video or taking 1 or 2 pictures is going to spoil your fun, but I do agree that recording an entire birthday party means that you are not truly living in that moment.
The biggest problem that I had with this radio program was that they never mentioned the idea of documentation as an outright lie. A real documentary is to stage nothing, be impartial, and show things fairly. We document our lives and our families lives not as a documentarian but instead we stage moments, we are completely biased, and we only show what we want. Even for those of us who actually take candid shots, most people aren’t keeping the pictures where people look unhappy.
I think most people stage photos. Nobody smiles 16 hours a day. Even people who are ridiculously happy spend most of their time not smiling.
All of these thoughts lead me to a very sad memory. In the summer, my beautiful nephews (identical twin boys) turned 2. I was so happy, excited, and just completely involved in the moment when they got to open their presents. The first 2 presents were given to them by my wife and me. They had huge smiles on their faces, and they were about to rip into the presents. Most people would see this as a perfect opportunity to document it by taking some candid photos and video taping it, but my very typical family/extended family decided to stop the boys from opening their presents because the video camera wasn’t yet ready. My sister even grabbed their hands and told them to wait. One of those boys almost cried. I put up a serious protest with my sister and told her to let them open the presents because I could see that she was ruining the moment for them. She wouldn’t listen to me, and everyone in the room made me feel as though I was being ridiculous.
After the video camera was finally figured out, the boys had no interest in opening the presents. They had to be coaxed into it by everyone in the room. In ten years from now, the video camera is going to tell the memory of 2-year-old boys opening their presents. Yes, they will have unaffected looks on their faces, but people will just say that’s how they acted when opening presents. Who really knows with a 2-year-old anyway? The video camera will tell the lie that everyone wants to believe. The video camera will never tell the story of how their mother completely ruined the first time that they’ve ever really cared about opening presents in their lives. Spoiling the moment and creating a lie was worthwhile to everyone in the room (except for me and the birthday boys), but missing the true moment and allowing the birthday boys to enjoy their birthday was completely out of the question.