Guest Post: Cell Phones, Disposability, and Why Taking Pictures Is Important

This week’s guest post was written by the brother-in-law. Ryan, who enjoys reading the newspaper out loud to anyone who will listen, cooking obscure foods, and kicking butt at Trivial Pursuit’s Sports and Leisure category, is a case manager by day and Superdad by night. Recently having lived under a roof with four generations of Wises, Ryan’s been thinking about history, inter-generational community, and memory. 

As part of my work as a case manager in the field of mental health, I spend a lot of time on the road, driving to visit with clients on a regular basis in order to assist them in managing needs and in coordinating various services.

Recently, I found myself driving as the elementary schools were letting out. In this case, it was also the first or second day for most of the area schools. Imagine the scene with me.

I am following a school bus, which can be a very exasperating chore if you are in a hurry. On this day, I don’t mind so much as I am using the time to ponder topics I might like to write about for a guest blog post at Texas Schmexas. The yellow lights on the bus begin to flash, followed by the red, and I come to a stop. I see a very excited second- or third-grader bound off the bus and cross the road to where her mother, dog, and grandparents are waiting with smiling faces and cell phones raised.

Yes, in what is a very common scene, Mom is taking the obligatory first day of school photos.

On a cell phone.

I don’t know about you, but I no longer have any photos that I took on the first cell phone that I owned with that capability. In fact, I don’t really have any cell phone photos saved in any sort of meaningful way. Considering the nature of photographs and the purpose that they serve, this seems to me to be an unfortunate side effect of the ease of taking pictures on thirteen different devices.

Photos commemorate a place and a time. They are a visual record of a moment. Once taken, the photo freezes life: the breeze blowing a tree, the look of shock on someone’s face as they get a joke, the exact look of a child at eight months, five days, and four hours of her life.

A picture on a cell phone is, by its very nature, disposable.

I love to look at old photos, especially those of my extended family from eighty—or more—years ago. I see them frozen in that time, full of thoughts and desires. I look at photos of myself at a younger age and I remember what my life was like and where it has progressed. I look at photos of my wife from before I knew her and I understand better who she is and where she comes from. Someday, my children will look at a picture of me on my first day of kindergarten and will get a better sense that I was where they have been as well.

But this girl, more than likely, has no lasting record of this moment. Her grandparents and mother (and dog) are there to get her at the bus stop—an important moment, possibly an important memory. But the joy on her face, captured briefly as a digital image, will not last.

Maybe taking pictures is too easy.

Community is not just here and now, the relationships we have with those around us, but it is the relationships we have with those who have come before us and with those who will follow. While the actual relationships are the most important part of this, preserved in memories, it is also good to have a record of these relationships. A reminder to future generations.

But the digital age has made disposable the norm. We delete pictures that we don’t think are good, when in the past, these were the only photos we had. Albums were filled with closed eyes, bad hair, and screaming children. And those are the moments that make up a life.

Who doesn’t think that these accidental shots are some of the best once given the veneer of time?

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2 comments on “Guest Post: Cell Phones, Disposability, and Why Taking Pictures Is Important

  1. breakfastae says:

    I agree with your photo philosophy, but these photos do not have to be disposable. I am a photo junkie. I love a good photograph. I love a good story. This year, I have been recording ordinary life every day (mostly every day) with photos taken with my iPhone. A photo of my teenagers feet as they hang off the end of his twin bed. A picture of the things I find in the washing machine that have fallen out of pockets. A picture of my best girlfriends drinking coffee and laughing. A photo of my husband and son with their heads together over homework. It is much easier than lugging along my SLR and it doesn’t intimidate its subjects. Are they the best photos? No, but they show glimpses of life and relationship that might not have been captured any other way. I don’t delete the bad ones, especially when they tell a better story. These photos do not live on my phone forever. They are uploaded, archived and printed. At the end of this year they will have a home in a special album. Nearly 365 photographs. The ordinary story of our life in 2011. One day my grandchildren will know that story.

    • elizabeth says:

      Well, first of all, you’re amazing!

      I’ll let Ryan reply if he wants to, but I’m guessing he would agree with you that cell phone photos need not be disposable. When people (like you) are willing to make the effort to keep track of them, they are great testaments to experience.

      And smart phones certainly make it easy for us to share our lives with others through social media.

      But I do think we can take photographs so easily these days that we often forget their value as documents of moments. People like you can remind us, though! One of my friends takes beautiful pictures of her ordinary life and documents them through her blog (alexanderliving.blogspot.com). She is also an inspiration to me–though she doesn’t take her photos on a cell phone. She is one of those people who lugs around her big camera everywhere!

      -Elizabeth

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