Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What's a crappy photo worth?

Liz, a friend on Facebook, linked to this article, which includes a perfect photo of Obama at the Youth Ball last night. What's perfect about it is that every single member of the audience appears to be taking a camera phone snapshot of Obama at the same time.

The author of the article laments that people were spending too much time capturing the moment instead of actually enjoying it. And besides, the crappy photo you get won't be nearly as nice as the ones available just a few hours later, so why bother?

It's an interesting point. In fact, part of it I can totally agree with.

Yesterday at the inauguration, I made a special effort to twitter the event. I thought it might be useful to have a blow-by-blow history of what happened, say 20 years from now. But, the reality is that I'm not a court reporter and trying to capture the event thoroughly is just frustratingly impossible. Like the author eluded to, you can end up worrying more about what you are capturing than actually remembering to enjoy yourself.

I also tend to run into this when I travel. I want to record everything I see and do, because it's all interesting. But, again, I'm not a travel writer and don't plan to become one. So, when on vacation I remind myself that the purpose of blogging is to capture some of the interesting stuff, not to capture the full record.

So, I agree with the article, you can take it too far.

But, I disagree that your own personal photo is either unnecessary, or can somehow be replaced by professionally done one.

Consider this crude recording I did at the U2 concert I was at years ago. When you listen to it, you'll hear a terribly fuzzy recording. When I listen to it, I can close my eyes and be transformed back to that evening in the Verizon Center, swaying with my wife as Bono played for thousands of us.

In other words, this crude audio recording is a hook into a memory. When I listen to U2 on the radio, it doesn't evoke those kind of memories. It can't.

I'm guessing the same will be true of the crappy recording I did at the inauguration as well as the photos. Imagine showing my grand kids these photos and recording? Sure, the professionally done photos will be nicer, but the cruddy photos are all mine. I suppose it's the difference between a public history and a personal history.

This whole notion of keeping a person history is nothing new. It didn't start with camera phones or blogging. Those are just tools - really this is just the act of keeping a journal.

With that in mind, when I look at the photo of the audience snapping a camera phone shot of the President, I don't see people trying to replace CNN, I see people capturing memories; ones that they'll look back on with friends and families and cherish.

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