Tuesday, 28 August 2012

UNdane Opinion - Documenting Vs Living

I was listening to Xfm radio in my car the other day and the DJ (I don't know who he was) said something that made me nearly crash it into a roundabout.

'What is it with girls constantly taking pictures of everything? Nights out, gigs, their friends, themselves...why do you have to document everything that happens? Don't document your life - live your life!'

I wanted to reach through the radio and throttle him a bit for being so stupid. Whilst hissing 'you just don't get it, do you?' in his ear. It was a somewhat irrational response but here's what was behind it:-

Sometimes I wonder if all this social media we have access to is a good thing. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Blogger and YouTube and whatever else is going on online. On our computers. On our smartphones. On our tablets, if we're lucky/stupid enough to have one (I'm not, yet). Because you hardly notice the transition from eyes-open to eyes-down but it does happen, and one minute you're looking at the world through big eyes, experiencing things and thinking 'wow that was good wasn't it?' and the next you're looking at the world through slightly glazed over eyes thinking 'wow that was alright wasn't it?' and composing the tweet in your head. Then you've whipped your phone out and the next 25 minutes is spent documenting everything you've just seen and done using the aid of photographs and statuses and messages that start with an @ symbol. It really annoys me. But I do it too. And then I annoy myself. And sometimes I feel a little bit dirty, a little bit tainted if I've just fired off sixteen tweets in the space of an hour. Like I shouldn't be doing it. Like I shouldn't need to. Isn't living it enough? Why am I doing this? Is it attention seeking? Why do I feel the need to have everyone know what I'm up to at any given point in the day? What happened to the air of mystery? Why can't I leave Facebook alone and just get on with it, safe in the knowledge that me experiencing all these things that life has to offer is enough?

So perhaps this radio DJ struck a nerve. (Although he was being an idiot. I mean, it's not just girls is it? I know plenty of guys who never get off Twitter. If they haven't posted anything for longer than 45 minutes I start to worry that they've died. Sometimes I call them to check they're still alive, and it usually turns out they were in a no signal area briefly, but during this time they had several small strokes and clawed out their own eyes because the world wasn't keeping track of them). And honestly? Yeah sometimes I do ask myself questions like 'am I so busy documenting that I'm missing out on just experiencing it?'

Then I think...no. Because documenting comes naturally to me. I've always done it. I've kept a diary in some form or other since I was 11 years old. Thanks to those diaries, I now have over 20 years of my life locked down, kept safe, never forgotten. And I would hate to forget. So I write it all down. When I get the chance, not obsessively. But it makes me feel better knowing that my movements and thoughts are not lost. Almost like it wouldn't mean as much if I couldn't record it for posterity, or so that someday way in the future someone else might read it and think 'wow, I felt that way at 18 too!'.

I do the same with photographs. Sometimes, seeing something is enough. Sometimes, something happens and I have to take a photograph of it. I can't explain it beyond 'I want to capture this moment and keep it' and sometimes 'I want to capture this moment so other people can see it'. I guess it's a pretty natural photographer instinct. It's not in our nature to stand back and let sights and moments go by us. Once, aged 22, I was standing in the middle of the main hall at the Natural History Museum in London, with a friend I'd know for a few years. We were staring up at a giant dinosaur skeleton. 'What would you do if a real dinosaur came into your garden?' I asked her. 'Scream and run away' she replied, before adding 'why, what would you do, stop and take a photo of it?'

Yes, probably.

The bottom line is, I don't like letting things go by without recording that they happened. Especially if something makes me really, really happy. Hence the years of diary making, photo taking, scrapbook collating goodness. I also like to share it with people. Maybe to try to make them smile, maybe because I'm a big fat attention seeker - hence, in this day and age, Twitter, Instagram, and this blog. Yes, it's possible to be so busy furiously social networking that you miss things in the real world. But for some, it's just a supplement. And for me, it's a set of tools I was already using to document my life before all this technology came along. It just makes it easier, and accessible to a wider audience. Sometimes I do wish I could stop doing it, delete my Twitter account and go and live in a cave on the side of a hill, just watching the world and not feeling the need to tell people about it...but that's not who I am.

There's nothing wrong with documenting, Mr radio DJ. You can document life and live it at the same time. You just have to know when to pull the smartphone from your eyes and have a good time.

Want to write a guest post for The UNdane? Get in contact - iris@undane.co.uk or find me on Twitter - @irismacro. I'll be the one tweeting too much about nonsense.

All photographs by Iris Jones


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