Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Life Its Ownself, No Filter

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The PGA Championship tournament was held in St. Louis last weekend. It generated a lot more interest than usual, mostly (entirely?) because the legendary Tiger Woods made a serious run at the title.

Golf fans are well aware that Woods has been attempting a comeback for years — with varying degrees of success — but hasn't won a major tournament since 2008. Last weekend, the formidable Tiger of old seemed to return to form, closing with a rousing 64 and finishing second in the season's final major.

But this isn't a golf column. This is a column about you and me and how the very way we perceive the world has transformed over the past decade or so. I'm going there, because on Twitter, Sunday, I saw a post with two pictures, side by side — and the contrast was startling: One was of Tiger's gallery in 2002; the second was of his gallery last weekend. In the 2002 photo, the crowd was transfixed by one of Tiger's tee shots. They stared, hands in pockets or holding a drink, mesmerized by his swing, the crack of the clubhead striking the ball, the arc of the little white pellet soaring into the ether. They were savoring the experience.

By contrast, in the 2018 photo, almost every person in the gallery was holding up a smartphone, photographing or videoing Tiger's shot. Some were even watching the action through their phones. It was a startling visual reminder of the sea change in the very way we experience reality now. So many of us feel compelled to record what we experience — and to share it. Is it just because the technology is there, and it's easy? Or is there something more at work?

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From the days of cave painting, humans have created images of their lives — our families, our travels, birthdays, and weddings, etc. It's a natural urge, I suppose, to have a visual record of our time on earth, a memory captured — a little frozen piece of time. And why create an image if it's not to be shared?

Look, I'm old enough to remember the dreaded call you would sometimes get from friends who'd just returned from vacation: "Come over Friday night. We're going to be showing slides from our cruise."

Argh. No amount of drinks could ever make tolerable the prospect of having to "ooh" and "ahh" at slides of palm trees, beaches, and dolphins for two hours. (But we did it, because we Midwesterners are a polite people.) So, maybe the best thing about the smartphone revolution is that it has permanently killed off slide-show nights. That's because everyone posts their vacation pics on Facebook or Instagram now, so all you have to do is spend two minutes scrolling and hitting "Like" 67 times.

We take pictures of everything — butterflies, flowers, sunsets, sunrises, golf tournaments, our kids, our pets, our new glasses, our clothes, our drinks, our cars, our ever-fascinating faces — and that fabulous sous vide pork chop you whipped up Sunday night.

Is all this because we need "likes" — some sign of public validation that we are interesting, witty, clever, beautiful, fascinating, politically savvy, sophisticated, edgy, and/or knowledgeable? I don't know. There's a saying that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Now that we have cameras with us at all times, does everything look like photo? I'm gonna go with "yes."

We are literally experiencing life in a different way. We're addicted to documenting what we see and sharing those images to define ourselves to the world at large via social media. We are all documentary filmmakers. And we're our own favorite subject. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, though there have been studies that show that if we are photographing something, we are less likely to remember it. That's because we're paying attention to the act of photography, rather than, say, Tiger's backswing. So maybe we need to put the camera down now and then and take in life its ownself — no filter.

Andy Warhol once said that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. Now we're our own paparazzi, and we're all famous, all the time. Especially you, my friend. You look marvelous. Like!

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