The quote above is from one of my favourite science fiction books, the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. The thought above crosses the mind of Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Galaxy. Zaphod is a very complex and amusing character. But the point of this post is not to delve into personal characteristics of fictional book characters. I used Mr. Beeblebrox’s thought to illuminate an interesting occurrence relating to the “obsession” which began with facebook and was exacerbated by instagram. I am talking about the infatuation with taking (and posting) amazing, “instagrammable” photos of any enjoyable moment of our lives, every time when we are having a good time; enjoying a good meal; admiring an amazing view; etc. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was written before the age of social networks. In Zaphod’s mind, there is no point in having a good time if there are no other people (or, at least, other sentient beings) around to watch you have a good time. Now in our era of FB, IG, snapchat, tiktok and other social networks, his thought would roughly translate into: “What is the point of having fun if you cannot make a photo or video of it and post it on your social network(s) for all your friends to see you have it?”
Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying that posting photos and videos on social networks is inherently bad. Hell, I have a travel blog website and an instagram profile and I regularly post photos on it from my travels, activities, etc. There is anything wrong with this per se.
But it can turn into a problem when people become so obsessed with taking documentary evidence of them having fun that they forget to actually have fun. Going somewhere just because the scenery makes for such fabulous photos? Undertaking an activity not because you really want to do it, but because it makes you look so cool on your GoPro camera?
I once sat next to a couple in a restaurant, where the girl spent so much time taking “perfect” photos of their dishes that they must have gotten cold before they started eating it. She wouldn’t let the guy start eating before she finished clicking, either. The poor dude was looking at his steak getting cold with a sour smile on his face and probably thought: “what a fucking waste”. A while ago I visited the astounding Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, Germany. It is a major tourist attraction. From one of the balconies in the castle, there is a wonderful view of the valley below and its two small lakes, glittering like blue eyes in the light green of the valley. As I was admiring the view, some asian dude came to the balcony with his camera. While looking at the screen of the camera, he took about ten photos of the valley and the lakes, looked at the photos and, seemingly satisfied, he left the balcony. He never moved his gaze from the screen and thus never actually saw the scenery with his own eyes. I was bedazzled - how can this be in any way satisfying? Of course I also took a couple photos - but only after thoroughly enjoying it with my eyes first. I thought that perhaps this guy has already been on the balcony 15 minutes ago and was so amazed by the beautiful view that he completely forgot to take any photos, so he came back to take them. Perhaps :)
The above two examples might be extreme, but we are all guilty of this to some extent. How many times have you stopped whatever fun thing you were doing to take a photo of it? How many times did you break a moment and crush its magic by the sound of inevitable clicking? How many times did you not take the time to properly appreciate the real beauty of something (or someone), just so you were able to capture a vague memory of it on camera? What is the use of coming from a journey with 2000 photos (which you will probably never look at, anyway), and few real memories? I think the real value of good times are not measured by the number of photos we have of it, but by the number of moments which were so magical that reaching for your camera/mobile phone did not even cross your mind.
There is a cool scene in the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, where Sean Penn plays the role of a professional photographer who ventures to the mountains of Nepal in order to photograph the mysterious and elusive Snow Leopard. After weeks of tracking, searching, and waiting in the freezing cold, he finally spots the leopard as it comes into sight on a distant ridge. Sean has his camera prepared and ready to shoot, but he doesn’t - he just looks at the majestic animal in silence. When Walter Mitty (who goes on his own bonkers quest to find Sean, and finds him just minutes before the leopard appears) asks him:
“When are you going to take it [the photo]?”
Sean simply replies:
“Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment - I mean me, personally - then I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it. Right there. Right here.”
Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfjkiTB1fHQ
I am not saying we should stop taking photos/videos of beautiful moments. It is nice to have a memory, and to share it with others. But we should try to do it in moderation. Don’t make it your primary purpose for having a good time. Don’t let it prevent you from actually enjoying the moment to its fullest. Don’t let the urge to take photos steal the magic. Eyes and soul come first, photos come later. Contrary to Zaphod’s point of view, there is no point of having fun, if it is not for yourself.
And never let your steak go cold. That’s blasphemy.