Put Your Phone Away! Camera Phones Are Ruining Storytelling

“Dude, I have to tell you this story. Oh man, the craziest thing happened today. I was just walking downtown with John and Mikey and like, there was — it was just this — oh man, just look at this picture.

Look, bro, I took a picture.


What? No, it’s not creepy, behind the girls, it’s that… well, you can kind of see it in the background. It’s the red jeep. It’s like… you remember from Jurassic Park? They’re driving that red jeep, in the movie, you know? Yeah! It was like, these dudes were pretending to be those dudes – the ones from the movie – and they were, like, asking people where Jurassic Park was. It was so funny!

Ha, I messed up that story, but seriously, I swear, look at the picture!”

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and just like that, I am now living vicariously through this guy because, despite his lackluster storytelling skills, he took a picture.

But… why? Why, exactly, is it so socially expected to take a picture that we can actually feel physically uncomfortable if we don’t pull out our smartphone and snap a low-quality photograph? Why do we feel like we need something to do with our hands? What exactly does that photograph offer us?

With all the amateur photographers and even videographers (we’ll get to that subject in another article), it’s a wonder that professional photographers can make a living (hint: it’s really difficult). Indeed, everyone seems to think, just because they have the capacity to take a picture using their phone, that it’s important to do so at every possible moment.

But again… why? Let’s look at some potential reasons.

  1. “I want to share it with my friends!”: Why do you need a photograph to do that? Once upon a time, before people had cameras in their pockets, when they saw something remarkable they… well, remarked… about it. With their words. They saw something, they remembered what they saw, and then they told other people what they saw. People were honestly pretty into that. It’s actually one of the foundations for the our entire human history – observing things and telling others about them. But what if…
  2. “I don’t want to forget about this!”: Is your memory that bad? Are you seriously at that much risk of forgetting this over the course of the next 24 hours that you need a photograph of it to remind you? If the photograph is of something that could be, perhaps, considered memorable, then by nature you’re pretty likely to remember it. If not, then why are you taking a picture of something that boring?
  3. “I want to show my friends I was really there!”: Do you have that big of a reputation as a liar? Like, you tell a story to your friends about your trip to New Zealand or the funny street performer you saw in San Francisco and they look at you and say “Ben, you’re a liar and you look like a liar. You’re the father of lies.”
  4. “I want to post it on Facebook.”: Enjoy your imaginary internet points.

I mean, to be fair, there are definitely situations when taking a photo is more than reasonable. You meet someone you respect and you take a picture with them. You’re in a beautiful location and you see something that looks pretty. You’re eating food at a restaurant.

Okay maybe not that last one.

But an iPhone photo, maybe blurry, maybe from a bad angle, possibly with a crowd of shoulders blocking the shot, most likely from slightly too far away, probably doesn’t do justice to whatever you saw. Plus, taking photos can be dangerous. In the case of this Jurassic Park prank (that, if you couldn’t tell, inspired this article) the guy who owns the signature jeep tells a story about how someone got in a car accident trying to take a picture.

“One time driving down the highway, some guy was trying to take a picture of [the jeep] and he actually hit the guy in front of him.”

But at least he got the picture, right!?

The point is that you don’t need to take a picture and, more often than not, experiencing life with your own eyes, Darth Vader’s last moments style, is a lot more enriching and rewarding, for you and the people you tell about it. When your grandchildren ask you where you were at on the day of the historic speech, you can either tell them how it felt to be there that day – the emotion, the energy, how the speaker was much shorter than they looked on television – or you can confess that you were tweeting a photo of them walking on stage and struggling with a bad connection and you missed the whole thing.

Here’s the video of “Jurassic Park in Real Life” by Improv Everywhere. It’s pretty great. Plus, these people didn’t even need to take a shaky photograph because the whole thing was caught on camera.

C’est la vie.


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