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You’ve been tagged

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Today I logged on to Facebook. I was kindly informed by the truly non-invasive Facebook feed that my 600 or so friends had added 48 new photo albums in the past week. Wow. That’s a lot of pictures. I supposed that I shouldn’t be too surprised; The Facebook statistics page notes that fourteen million photos are uploaded daily.

Generally speaking, I am all for technology Who isn’t? If something can be made more efficient or more easily accomplished, go for it. However, I am starting to see why some things are better left outside the grasp of technology. Photography is one of them.

Don’t think that I am some sort of photography snob. I don’t have the faintest idea how a photo is developed or why a dark room is actually red. In fact, I didn’t even own a camera until this summer when my parents bought me a cheap Nikon to take abroad. But, as far as I can tell, buying a Nikon didn’t make me a photographer; it just made me a Nikon owner. However, I can tell the difference between a good picture and a bad one, a picture that actually does (as the cliché goes) tell a thousand words and one that doesn’t. I’m afraid that Facebook and digital cameras have led to far more of the latter and left more people unable or unwilling to look at their own or other’s photographs with any sort of critical eye. This is not good for two reasons. The first is pragmatic. The second is more philosophical, if a business major dares venture there.

Practically speaking, spending time uploading all of those photos actually takes quite a while. First, you have to put them off the camera onto the computer. Then, you have to load each of them to Faebook. Then, if you are feeling particularly ambitious, you have to think of a fun, witty, interesting description to each one, mostly trying to explain how this picture is different than the last one. This part usually involves a number of exclamation points. Finally, you have to tag each person in each picture. After all, if you didn’t do that, nobody would look at them, and what would be the point? Let’s be serious, most people are only really looking at albums they are in anyways. Spending all of this time putting hundreds of photos that are more or less the same poses, the same people, in different dorm rooms, houses, and apartments just doesn’t seem a totally fulfilling way of spending time or expressing what’s important in your life to others.

This brings me to my second point. The unlimited storage of digital cameras and Facebook servers have caused people to lose feeling for what the moments that really should be photographed are. They mistake every moment as a photo op. Instead of finding the one moment in a party that truly defines an evening (almost always when Journey comes on), kids are just taking 40 pictures and hoping one of them really does capture the essence of something. Its tough to truly enjoy the party if you are too busy checking the photo you just took to see if it is good enough, or whether someone wasn’t looking and you need to take another.

Using the camera to take a few choice photos to remember or show off the experience is wonderful; taking photos instead of being in the experience is not. No matter how great an experience, viewing it entirely through a 2.5 by 2.0 inch LCD screen will completely diminish it. The famous photographer, W. Eugene Smith commented, “The world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35 MM camera.” If a man who took famous pictures for Life magazine of WWII atrocities was sure that he couldn’t capture the essence of life, who are we to be able to fit our life on a 128 MB memory card.

My advice for kicking this photo habit: set a limit and buy a disposable camera. I know this sounds completely stupid, but it’s not. Consider that each camera has about 24 pictures. Each time you take a picture, you know you only have so many more. This forces one to really look for a moment worth remembering. For the price of one digital camera, you could purchase almost fifteen high quality Kodak single use cameras. Considering how often cameras are broken, this isn’t a bad prospect. Furthermore, with digital CDs these days, it is not hard to get them on your computer, and it makes the prospect of developing them much more exciting and special. With some practice, it might even make you a better photographer.

Imagine Facebook without serial photo albums. Each person loads an album of just 24 pictures covering a few weeks or months. The pictures are special and specific, focused on the best moments. These are the photos I would love to look at, even if I’m not in them.

Jason Coleman is a junior majoring in management. He can be contacted at

[email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.