Losing Sight & Blocking Views

You are standing in a museum. A painting hangs on the wall before you.

Observe the cramped, colorful canvas dashed with oil. It’s rigid marks and flowing lines blend together to create meaning. Stretching out behind the isolated frame is a dimmed landscape of whiteness. An angelic spotlight showers down upon the image, holding the shadows at bay. The painting calls out for you to admire it’s abstract existence.

The room is silent, but for a few people jostling about the room. You hear faint whispers and the shuffling of sneakers on the hard wood floor. Yet, a suppressive quietness holds the room. It’s as if a librarian regulates the climate, with only an index finger pressed to his lips.

This community of visitors observes a respectful decibel level. Together, we find it sobering to acknowledge the historical works presented to us. They provide contextual appreciation for our antiquities and bring forth new sensations of the mind. Among other things, we conceive of the immensity to human endurance, the power of testimony, and the complexity of talent.

It can diminish you without contempt. Making you feel minute, as you discern how far back our history can stretch. It’s a stark reality to consider, myriad moments throughout history, which have not deemed worthy of memorial. No one present to capture, contrive, or display the daily occurrences of life, on a wall like this one.

Today, this spawns a cognitive disparity for an individual of the 21st century. It may explain why humans endowed with mobile camera phones, feel a compulsion to seize, archive and display collections of their own.

In a museum, adrift in observation, it’s jarring to be interrupted by an intruder. They sweep in, with no concern for obscuring the view of others. The loud burst of a camera shutter breaks the ambiance and severs any harmony within the environment. They steal away a moment and then disappear without ever truly laying eyes on the artwork itself.

Are we so incapable of absorbing the present?

If you watch long enough, you will see a range of behaviors as people encounter artwork like this. Some will march in and hold a gaze, as they process what’s in front of them, before moving on. Others will grapple with it for an eternity, hoping to grok the intention set forth by the artist.

Whatever your pace, I hold no concern. My objection is to you who spend more time angling your camera than you do enjoying the art.

If your goal is to keep the image, surely someone better equipped has taken a better photo. Try using a search engine to find your favorite piece of art. I’m confident you will discover an image that will suit your needs.

If you fancy a statue to post to social media, or a stained glass mosaic that you want to set as your background photo, by all means. But to the woman taking a shot of that 6x10" drawing. What are you going to do with that?

We are programmed to record the mundane and routine.

Tech has freed us of any reluctance to capture everything we see. We don’t spend film and we can purge images we don’t want in an instant. The only thing at risk is our battery life, but we have found a solution for that as well.

We wear devices to extend our lives in the digital realm. These little battery packs can be found hitched to people all over the world. I have friends who bring these when they visit my home! You know who you are, I love you.

We are what we share.

I struggle with addiction to social media. At a young age, I mistook the idea of social acceptance as equivalent to love. Social media gave me the tools to manipulate how other’s view my life. I’ve abused this power in many ways over the past decade, unintentionally and by design.

What I have learned is that this obsessive behavior only leads to further isolation. I’ve come to recognize that the more someone shares, the more they are asking to be seen, or accepted.

Today, we believe our followers know who we are because we control how they perceive us. Due to this fallacy, our brains are no longer capable of distinguishing a moment worth capturing from one that is not.

We stroll around like robots, aggressively documenting data for an archive. Whether we are spending time with family, or visiting a new country, we fall into the same habits. We stage scenes, pose our bodies, and crop images in an effort to be ‘liked.’

Photos and films will always bring joy into our lives.

This week, I heard my grandmother’s voice for the first time in over 15 years. In Finland, a family friend has saved a tape recording she received in 1972. She played it for me when I visited with her, and it brought tears to my eyes.

The content of the tape could be considered mundane, mostly conversation around the dinner table. But hearing my grandma Helen’s voice rekindled a warmth in my heart that I hadn’t felt since I was a boy.

Listening to the tape, you can tell the act of recording is secondary to what is happening in the room. This moment occurred 18 years before I was born, but I can picture all of them gathered together as if I were there myself.

We should continue to record these vibrant, unpredictable or otherwise memorable events in our lives. They have value, sometimes in ways we couldn’t imagine. However, we should stay vigilant with an awareness for the moment we are in.

Hold yourself accountable and never lose sight of what matters most.

Thank you for listening.

You are the conversation, please respond, comment or share this as you see fit.

This is one of several essays I’ve written on identity, technology and empathy in the society we are building together. Stay tuned.

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