Virtual vs Real Presence

Skeena River, British Columbia 1996
When I lived in Northern British Columbia, I was amazed at the mountain-scapes all around me. They were majestic and beautiful. The pictures I had seen were also majestic and beautiful, but somehow they didn't really capture something. In many ways the photos captured the mountain-scapes well, but they could never represent the awesomeness of their presence.

There is something vastly different about actually being there in the presence of those ominous, overwhelmingly massive monoliths of natural raw power. It is more than any photo could ever hope to capture.

My Great Grandmother, Grandmother
and Great Aunt in 1925
Of course, photos can take us places we have never been, or to times we never lived in. I have never been to China, but a quick google search and I can know what the forbidden city looks like. I have never met my great grandparents, but a rummage through some old boxes reveals their likeness. Yet somehow it is just not the same as having met them.

We forget this in today's media driven world. We are more interested in seeing things on the small screen than participating in the real life spectacle that is around us. Do we think it is better? Or somehow more exciting? And now that we all have quick and easy access to a camera on our cell phone that is always with us, it is too easy to look at that little screen rather than look around us and take it all in.

Virtual reality is becoming our reality. Take the Microsoft Hololens for example; an amazing piece of tech that allows us to see things in the room that aren't really there. And the things that are there seem to fade as they become backgrounds on which to build our virtual world.

Studies have proven we don't remember as well when we are taking pictures as we do when we are actually present in the moment. If you are constantly taking photos, it begs the question, did you really see it, or did you just watch it on a little TV?

And what are you going to do with all those pictures you take anyway? You will probably store them on a hard drive never to look at them and only to loose them when you buy your next computer, or the computer crashes. Even if you store them in the cloud in Facebook, or some other service, you rarely look back at them. Unlike the days of the photo album, when the number of images we took was limited and somehow seemed more meaningful and tangible; when we took them off the shelf once in a while to reminisce. Now we take thousands of photos and store them virtually only making them all of lesser value.

There is a place for photography, and even a need to take photos. But taking photos should not become the purpose of our presence at any place or event (unless you are being paid to do so). So the next time you are at a wedding, or your family is gathered for Christmas, or a birthday party; put the camera down. Talk to some people, look around you and appreciate where you are. Sure, take a few photos to remember the occasion - or leave that to the professional hired for the occasion - you don't want to be known as that person who always has their camera up standing in front blocking everyone else's view when you aren't even looking at reality anyway. Instead be known as the person who was enjoying themselves and participate in the experience.

Your life will be all the richer for it. Maybe you will even have a life.

But then that's just my view - from Gary's Lens.


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