Commentary... Staying in the moment


Last updated 9/14/2022 at Noon

I recently tuned on the news to witness a historic moment — Prince Charles transitioning to King Charles. I listened to his speech then watched him greet and interact with his public. A moving gesture, but I couldn’t help but notice how many people were intently focused on their phones, anxiously photographing or videoing His Majesty. Instead of actually seeing their new King walking amongst them, they were glued to their phones.

I vaguely wondered why they hadn’t just stayed home and recorded this historic moment on their tellies. But I know the reason. People seem to have this millennial need to document everything, a need to prove they were there, that they attended a specific event. But were they really present? Did they actually witness anything their brain will remember in years to come? Were they truly in the moment? And what if the “cloud” swallows their photographic efforts?

Do you remember when going out for dinner was a social thing? Nowadays, it seems that half of us are bent over our cell phones. Have we forgotten how to interact with one another over a shared meal? And some get distracted with photographing their food. Does posting that dish on social media improve the dining experience? And then there are those who take group selfies, again and again, to get it just right. Perhaps it’s another way to prove they’re “in the moment.” But are they really?

As a young person I spent a year in one of the most remote places on earth — Papua New Guinea.

Talk about photographic opportunity! Of course, that was long before cellphone camera convenience, but I did have a little pocket-sized Kodak with me.

I didn’t really enjoy being tied to a camera, but folks at home had begged so I tried to comply.

But early on, I learned something I’ll never forget.

The indigenous people intensely disliked having their pictures taken.

They believed the camera stole their soul.

Oddly enough, I could relate to that.

Since childhood I’d hated being posed and photographed.

Not that I thought my mom’s camera stole my soul exactly, but perhaps it chipped away a bit.

And now I wonder if our convenient cell phone cameras might be thieves, or at the very least, intruders. Phones can usurp time, conversation, and the enjoyment of being present. How does one remain “in the moment” when viewing it through the limited lens of a phone? It’s like that kid watching a ball game through the knothole in a fence. Wouldn’t he have more fun amidst with the cheering crowd? To hear the ring of the bat, smell the popcorn, feel the crunch of peanut shells under foot? To have a real memory to take home?

Have we forgotten that our brains can contain the most amazing “photo albums” ever? We are blessed with a lifetime of miraculously stored mental images that we can access in a nanosecond. Some of my favorite wildlife scenes are stored there. Golden antelope illuminated by the setting sun, a waterfall crashing and sparkling in the filtered afternoon light. The mama black bear sending two cubs up a tree in the coastal morning fog. Scenes I’d have lost or forgotten if I’d attempted to capture them by camera.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying cameras don’t have their place. Who doesn’t enjoy a beautiful landscape photograph or family portrait? I love historic photos, baby pics, and nature’s displays. And where would we be without movies? But are we going overboard with our “convenient” cameras? Photographing, videoing every little thing? What if we totally miss the moment while attempting to “capture” it?

As I write this, I’m considering our upcoming Sisters Folk Festival. I don’t think flash cameras are allowed, but I don’t like to recall how many times I’ve sat behind someone videoing a performer with their cellphone. I try to ignore the fan, but must admit it’s a distraction to my enjoyment of the song. And I’m curious whether the amateur videographer enjoys it. Do they even hear it? Have they considered recording from the rear of the tent? Am I just getting old and crotchety?

Anyway, I have a challenge. Can we all become more cognizant of those times when cell phone usage lures us outside of the moment? Can we be aware that even if our picture taking in public venues seems normal to us, someone else might find it distracting or intrusive? I don’t want to go so far as to say cell phone cameras are stealing our souls, but perhaps they are nibbling away, shot by shot.

Let’s try to get back to being present—not trapped by flat images viewed through a camera’s lens. Let’s pocket our phones and engage all our senses to fully experience life’s pleasurable events. Let’s celebrate the now, and stay in the moment!


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