There’s a lot that I like about sharing thoughts and images here: the chance to sort ideas, to post pictures, to keep in touch with family, friends, and colleagues around the globe. It sharpens my eye for an image (Heathrow 5, right), my ear for a story, and my heart for making the most of life’s opportunities and passions, old and new.
It sometimes drives people a little nuts to be with me, scribbling a note to write about later and holding the group to grab a few pictures. Then, evenings, I’m on the computer adjusting and cropping, checking references and rewriting passages for an hour, then posting.
But it’s healthy time for reflection, communication, and connection.
Or is it?
The Agony of Instagram, fretted the NY Times. Its about is about unadulterated voyeurism… idealizing every moment…with every last image an “Advertisements for Myself. There are a lot of awful braggarts whose posts have a vibe of ‘Hey, you’re not invited to my awesome.’ A similar charge is levelled at Facebook, where narrative becomes an aspirational deception. The effect is only highlighted when the stream consists of images.
Sherry Turkel, whose wonderful 1995 book Life on the Screen anticipated many of the conflicts between personal identity and online media, added to the debate with another OpEd, The Documented Life. Her thesis is that we are simply becoming accustomed to putting ourselves and those around us “on pause” in order to document our lives….when people are alone, or feel a moment of boredom, they tend to reach for a device, unable to resist a selfie, unable to sit still alone with our thoughts.
Isolation, preoccupation, distraction, narcissism. ‘ Too much living in the meta: thinking about life instead of simply living it.
Still, I see it differently (as I usually do).
I had a ten minutes wait outside early Saturday, morning sunlight catching the green needles and red trunks of our maritime pines, wisps of cloud drifting beyond. Bored, a little impatient. I’d rather be sailing.
I looked at the trees again, reading the day on the water in them. The shape of the clouds, the sigh of the wind, the blown angle of the trees promised a very good day running downwind to the east, unlikely to rain.
And if I’d rather be painting? Then it’s composition and balance; viridian green and cadmium red, lift the clouds and brush the branches. Or photographing? I took a few contrasting pictures of the trees with different settings,trying to bring out the contrasts, the Dutch glow the Dorset light.
Each perspective is a lens; and each changes the way I see trees and skies. It places them into a context, adds meaning.
Similarly with words and photos. Every day is a whirl of experiences and choices. Mornings may start with a walk along the beach; middays filled with conference calls discussing lab results ; evenings up to the elbows in some recipe, weekends at galleries staring through a sculpture, bedtimes bracketed with bookish essays and punctuated with China podcasts.
But when I sit to write, there’s a perspective in mind and it’s a lens to see the events. The essay is a way of interpreting the day, of putting events together into some context. Far from narcissism, it’s reporting, exploring.
Analyst John Dickerson makes a similar point on Facebook: I can think of lots of moments where the picture I took or Tweet I wrote allowed me to capture something and makes the moment richer and more lasting. He went on to write:
You can live in the moment and capture it…technology has improved this process of engaging with life through pausing to capture it. And when you pause to write about something you are engaging with it.
In “Why I Write,” Joan Didion explains, "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means.”
Something within you is inspired and, at the very least, you've got to pick the words and context to convey meaning for your private recollection or, if you make it public, for the larger world.
For me, this gets it exactly right.