Sunday, February 1, 2009

Is it live or is it Memorex?

Even the most well-behaved children might develop a case of the fidgets when Dad is about to be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, so I wasn't surprised to see Michelle Obama lean over a few times toward Malia and Sasha. I wondered if she were talking to them or someone else, or if she were, in traditional Mom fashion, telling them to "settle down."

There they were, taking pictures and videos and sending text messages from their unique vantage point at the inauguration. No one had a better perspective on the event, and only the most stoical of stoics could have resisted temptation. Young girls are not known for stoicism, although I imagined somewhat whimsically that they were telling their friends, "Will you look at him? He'll think he's important now!"

Now that we have the technology, we keep trying to capture the moment, whatever the moment may be. When I was a child, film and processing were expensive enough to make photography a small luxury. The camera, a Kodak that cost $2 or $3, came out mainly for special occasions (the obligatory birthday and Christmas shots) and excursions, with an occasional photo of Virgil in the washtub or Diane in the bath. For practical reasons, photos were secondary to the experience.

When camcorders became the ubiquitous rage and I saw fathers (almost never mothers) recording every moment, I began to wonder if something weren't being lost. Intent on his viewfinder, the family videographer seemed unable to focus on anything beyond that narrow range. Every moment recorded represented a moment in which the dad did not see the world from his child's perspective; he was an observer of his child's life, not a participant in it. Do those parents watch those videos now?

Now you can't go into a restaurant, movie theater, café, park, or any public place without being blinded by the flash of someone's digital camera. Blogs and social networks are full of photos of smiling groups of people at their family, evening, and weekend outings and comments about fashions, hair, and memorable happenings. Joy is ephemeral. Who can be blamed for trying to cage it within a few thousand pixels?

Photos and videos show and tell the stories of our lives. On January 20, 2009, as I saw images of people at workplaces, schools, churches, and senior centers across the country with tears in their eyes, I thought that, without the distraction of trying to record history, they are the ones who have captured it best—not on chip, but in their minds, hearts, and imaginations.


  1. Agreed. Even with something as static as a lighthouse, I consciously make the effort to take it all in and appreciate it before ever removing the lens cap

  2. The way anything beautiful like a lighthouse (or an old film palace) is torn down nowadays, I wouldn't call them static! :(