As I’m on this epic road trip of a lifetime, I have been blessed to disconnect a little from the grid. Honestly, I couldn’t believe how much this experience was forced on me! I had no idea there were long stretches of the country where I couldn’t get a cell signal, and I’m with Verizon! The side-effect of this phone detox is I’m able to be more present with the experience at hand. No twitch towards the phone, mindless checking of twitter and instagram (though my insta-pictures are awesome) to see how many people “heart” my updates. It’s been refreshing.
My camera has been another issue entirely. I love taking pictures. There’s nothing wrong with taking pictures, unless I’m so focused on taking the “perfect picture” that I don’t simply watch and experience the beauty of what’s going on around me. Digital cameras and 16gb SD cards (allowing over 3,000 high-quality images) have allowed me to process 100 images of essentially the exact same view. It’s a gluttony and a greed, combined with an insecure feeling that “I haven’t gotten it quite right”.
This wasn’t the case with film cameras, you set up, waited for your shot, and took 1-3 pictures. It was an art, a decision, and a willingness to live with what you’ve done. A side-effect was that before and after the brief moments of taking the picture, you saw and experienced what the landscape was showing you, and not through the tiny screen of your camera. We have effectively taken our camera and turned them in to small televisions, watching what is alive before us.
Let Me Tell You Two Stories…
We (Morgan and I) were driving back to our Yellowstone campsite at sunset, when we passed over the bridge on Nez Perce Creek. I was recording our drive, and Morgan saw a beautiful view of the sunset, the dipping sun glowing through the pines. “We have to get that!” she yelled, and pulled off in a parking area. We ran back to the bridge, and I am clutching the camera. When we arrive, I take several pictures, many at different angles and depths. I fiddle with the settings, which I know little about. I walk down to the creek, and snap several more. I move 10 feet to the left, then to the right. I attempt to capture the sagebrush with the fading light. Morgan has walked off to look at a buffalo on the other side of the creek. I remain at the creek for at least 10 minutes, taking pictures and playing with settings, trying to get everything right.
Finally, I look up, and it’s over. The sun has set. I recorded it, but experienced little. I was not present with the beauty of the moment. Morgan walked back, all smiles after her buffalo encounter. “He’s so big and cute! He was laying by the creek, drinking and shaking his big head (she demonstrates). I loved watching him!” Morgan, possibly simply because I had possession of the camera, had been fully present with this buffalo. She had seen him, and watched his every move, with her own 2 eyes set upon his. Not through a tiny screen.
The next day, we were at Old Faithful. We sat on the porch of the lodge and ate ice cream, the sun beating down on us. When it was almost time for the reliable geyser to blow, we rambled on down to the seating area (the NPS has built this around Old Faithful, convenient and hilarious). We sat next to an elderly man, toting an old 35mm. Behind us, a man in his early 30s sported a new Canon DSLR. This 2nd man was like me. We waited, waited, and waited for the geyser to spout. Each time Old Faithful looked ready to fulfill her earthly duty, Canon man took about a dozen pictures in burst mode. This happened about a dozen times. He probably took 200 pictures of nearly the exact same view. The old man took 1, maybe 2. I was in the middle, taking more and less, and mostly trying to video. After the sunset experience (or lack thereof), I was trying to be more present.
Finally, Old Faithful did what she was created to do, and let loose. Water shot in to the air, reaching towards the sky, falling back in thick mists that pelted our faces and fogged our lenses. Canon man was a fury of snapping, adjusting, and recording. I filmed most of the eruption, but simply held the camera steady as I watched with my own 2 eyes. The old man took 1, maybe 2 pictures, and watched.
Afterwards, Canon man fussed about his pictures, while the old man remained steady, watching the spray as it dissipated in to the air. Canon man had barely seen the show, and he will have 500 pictures to remind him of the time he took 500 pictures of Old Faithful. The old man experienced a stunning display of the earth’s power and force, and will have a couple of pictures to help him recall the prismatic effect of sky, sun, and water, the feel of mist on his cheeks, and the sound of untold gallons of water pumping through the earth.
Are You Experiencing Life, or Recording It?
In this era of information and digital life sharing, putting everything away and truly experiencing the life set before us is a challenge that no generation has ever faced. Digital cameras, smartphones, and social media are not bad or evil tools, but they are tools. To have them actually rewire our brains is frightening. We need to be disciplined in our usage, so we are actually living the life we have been given, and not simply recording it, turning our life’s experience in to a tiny screen of memories. I want to remember it all, not just the sights, but the sounds, smells, and touch of my life. I simply cannot do this while taking 50 pictures of the same view, or constantly uploading and checking status updates and images, then checking again to see how much other people appreciate me. We have to make our present experience a priority, and not send our brains off to a digital experience and gratification. The people, landscape, and experience around you is enough. Trust me.
(picture of Ansel Adams at Yosemite, found via the fine site of ck/ck)
View more of the pictures from my trip!
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