Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Life-the Snapshot Theory

A few months ago, someone warned about the of perils of a webcam. Apparently, if I don't shut down my computer, people can watch me in my own home! OOOooooo. I challenge anyone to do this and stay conscious for a full ten minutes, because even if my webcam had legs and could follow me around, this is what you would see...
Adele washes a plate, puts it in the second sink. She dries her hands and hangs the towel. O! O! She is going outside! Adele places the sprinkler in the backyard, picks a wedgie, and rounds the side of the house to turn on the hose. She returns to the backyard and runs in to reposition the sprinkler (AKA the I'll-get-you-before-you-get-me-dance). She goes back to the side of the house and increases the pressure. She checks the backyard one last time and, seemingly satisfied, goes inside. Adele takes off her sunglasses and sets the stove timer. Adele takes out a mug, and fills the kettle...Shall I go on?

Can I ask? Am I missing something? Is everyone else engaging in compelling, oscar-worthy (possibly illegal?), activity in their homes on a regular basis in view of their webcam? Because, if so, I want in!

To be clear, if you are really struggling with the inability to not only stop performing lecherous acts in your own home, but also the propensity to (accidentally) publicly broadcast them, I am not making light of this. You should probably get that figured out. BUT the reason I bring this up is that I think there is something much more prevalent and comparatively dangerous than being able to see life in real time on a webcam. And that is this...

In this day and age of social media and, with all the gadgets that make this possible, we are constantly bombarded with 'snapshots' of people's lives—people we know well, people we 'keep in touch with', celebrities, even people we don't know. And these 'snapshots' come from all the corners of life—pictures of weddings, selfies with Machu Pichu in the background, our kids heavily made-up and dressed up as a frog for the dance recital, pictures of people finishing triathlons, happy faces at a family get-together, even pictures of healthful and amazingly aesthetic culinary creations. Though these types of images are not necessarily unique to the digital age (except maybe the ones of food, I doubt there are many polaroids of fish tacos), the accessibility to these snapshots is vastly increased. Now, maybe this all seems harmless to you, but if you were to pit these 'snaphot' images against the comparable webcam footage, I think you will find an interesting pattern.
Here are a few examples...

SNAPSHOT: The perfect baby face sleeping peacefully against a mother's chest held snuggly there by a trendy print fabric baby wrap (organic cotton sourced locally from a single mom refugee who donates 50% of her profits to endangered pandas—I know because the status told me as much).

Webcam Footage: 20 minute close-up of my perplexed face watching “How-to wrap your baby” videos on YouTube, followed by another 20 minutes of an increasingly sweaty me trying to wrap the god-forsaken thing around a screaming baby, all the while fearing I am going to break his head off, only to later succeed (I think?) and find the baby is still definitely NOT peaceful. He eventually passes out from exhaustion long enough for us to get a decent shot of him being perfect and me looking competent. (SWISH)


SNAPSHOT: Selfie of a 20 something cheek to cheek with a young Kenyan child proudly displaying a newly purchased wooden giraffe with colourful and obviously foreign market backdrop.

Webcam Footage: 20 something arrives at Nairobi market on air-conditioned tour bus browses the market just long make said purchase and take picture, finds a McDonalds for lunch and returns to comfortable gated hotel paid for on gifted VISA from Mom and Dad.
***WebCam footage of child labourer not available***


SNAPSHOT: Picture of Suzie's well-dressed kids smiling at the table with homemade heart-shaped Valentine's theme sandwich (organic, whole-grain, homemade bread, of course) with a side of garden cucumbers on displayed on colourful plate.

Webcam Footage: Suzie spends her entire morning juggling the making of the organic wholegrain bread with the meeting of demands of the (often screaming) children, threatening to take away tv time if they don't “GET DRESSED ALREADY!”, occasionally running to tend to her garden (fingers-crossed that no one is seriously maimed in her absence), +/- 7000 other small interruptions to her ultimately getting the Pinterest-worthy sandwich on the plate. All for the grand moment where she is able to snap that perfect picture before they tell her they 'hate this kind of bread' and stash the cucumbers on the floor which she will later sweep up whilst scarfing down the scraps of her sandwich cut-outs. Fast-forward 5 hours and it's hotdogs for supper! “YAY!! THANKS MOM!”

If I have not made it painfully obvious, I'm hoping that you are seeing that the pattern emerging here is just how VERY small a part of the bigger picture that 'snapshot' actually is. But, the real problem I see arising from this phenomenon in modern times is a generation of people in hot pursuit of just that—a snapshot—where life has become about the proverbial 'destination' rather than the 'journey.' I'm going to coin this the “Snapshot Effect.” It seems that with increasing frequency, we live in a world where actually living life takes a backseat to getting (and sharing) that perfect snapshot. I once went out with this woman who spent the ENTIRE evening taking selfies and group shots and posting them in real time to Facebook and completely missing the social event unfolding right in front of her. I'm guessing you have a story or two of the like. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the 'Snapshot Effect' transcends far beyond the social domain. For instance, I remember the feeling of disillusionment that clouded my early years as a mother, wondering why the hell my parenting reality didn't seem to resemble what I was seeing in the pictures or reading about in people's statuses. Now, I won't be so bold as to point the finger at social media for all of the hiccups I might have experienced as a new parent, but I can't help but wonder how I would have felt differently if my vision of parenting had been created entirely from actual real time contact with other parents minus the bombardment of cutesy snapshots. As another example, I read recently that some crazy percentage (over 50%) of women report feeling “Pinterest-stress” (I know, get a real problem...) but, apparently, just encountering images of attractive crafts, foods, activity ideas causes people to feel like they are falling short, like they should be doing more. And one can't help but wonder why, since the early 2000's, spending on home renovations has increased every single year. People just can't seem to help but pursue what they are seeing in those fancy snapshots, whatever the cost.


Now, I didn't write this to discourage you from relishing and sharing those 'destination' moments—whether that be a photo of the moment you first held your child, or when that diploma is finally placed in your hand, or a picture of your perennials in full bloom if that's your thing—You should celebrate those things. REALLY. YOU SHOULD. And conversely, I am not suggesting that you start sharing 'journey' photos of yourself on the crapper or doing dishes or some such nonsense. Not at all. I am just reminding you, reminding me to be present on our own journey. Maybe this means consciously taking space from social media sites or HGTV, or maybe it means mentally reminding yourself that those snapshots are representative of a moment not a complete reality, I don't know.  But if you, like me, occasionally find yourself falling victim to the Snapshot Effect, I encourage you to make a change of some sort. Most importantly, just remember to also relish and celebrate the everyday stuff, however humble, un-photogenic, or tedious it may seem. Because all of those less-than-picture-perfect moments are not just filler, they are the bulk of our lives and personhood. Somewhere in those hours and hours of webcam footage you became the person you are in those snapshots—a mother, a professional, a traveler, a gardener, a friend. And that is worth more than any one moment you will ever be able to capture.