Stand-up comedian Louis C.K. has a brilliant bit where he tells an anecdote about a group of parents watching their elementary-age children perform a dance. Of course, every single adult held up a phone right in front of his or her face to record the show, completely blocking his or her view of the actual performance.
“Look at your kid!” C.K. lets out an exasperated laugh. “The definition on the actual kid is incredible. Totally HD.”
We live in a generation obsessed with visual documentation. Instagram and Twitter are infinite libraries of personal thoughts and photos. YouTube receives and uploads about 500 hours of video a minute. Dropcam, a company known for its Wi-Fi streaming, downloads more than 1,000 hours of video a minute – that’s up about 500 percent over last year.
And, like most aspects of life, this is not an inherently bad thing. Pictures and video of everyday activities have been around for decades (at the least), so this is hardly a new phenomenon.
I love pulling out the old home movies and watching my brothers and I explore the Christmas tree in 1999. Did my parents filming annoy me at the time? Sure, but I appreciate it now. When I went to a Michael Bublé concert last year, I snapped pictures left and right, and I still look at them.
But I can’t help but feel that the constant filming of daily life has gotten out of hand. People have begun to place their cameras between themselves and the action like a shield, more worried about documenting the event than actually enjoying it.
In his stand-up, C.K. nails the biggest downside to this continual filming: he laments that the parents are hardly even watching their children dance because they’re so focused on filming, and he then sputters that these parents are never going to even watch what they film. He tops off the bit by pressing, “These kids are dancing for no one.”
That’s where constant filming does its most damage. Even if we do it with the best of intentions, when we neglect others in favor of documentation, we undercut their proudest moments. Being fully present for these big moments has a greater impact for the subject than a full video.
Of course, I’m not saying occasional photos of major events and fun memories are bad. But experiences and emotions are far more enriching than a pixelated image.