Karen Rosenberg notes in Everyone Lives, In Pictures, her New York Times analysis of Instagram and similar photo applications, that a new cultural norm has arisen in photography. She quotes Susan Sontag’s collection of essays “On Photography.” In 1977 Sontag wrote:
“Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted.”
“But”, as Rosenberg notes, “that was before smartphones and social media; before the imperative to share our photographs; before Instagram, purchased earlier this month by Facebook for $1 billion. The act of snapping a picture is no longer enough to confirm reality and enhance experience; only sharing can give us that validation.”
Rosenberg’s article reminds me of something that happened a while ago, when I took a group of students hiking on the Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls, Maryland just outside Washington, DC.
As we entered the trail from the northern side a student asked if she could listen to her Ipod while we hiked. I told the group that I’d really prefer that we not be hooked into technology during the hike. In other words, not cell phones, no texting, no music or apps. The one exception I was willing to make (and which I generally am willing to make) was the used of electronic devces for taking pictures.
So we began our hike. We scrambled over boulders, walked shaded paths and climbed a pretty steep wall, all before we stopped to eat lunch. As we came to an overlook where we could see the river below us and across to the Virginia side, I saw one of the students, thumbs working hard typing away on his smartphone.
I reminded him that we weren’t going to be e-mailing or texting while we hiked–or at all in the woods.
“No, no…” he said, “It’s alright, I’m not texting, I’m just posting my pictures to Facebook.”