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Capturing tomorrow’s yesterday

I have done a fair bit of traveling in the past year, went to a couple of concerts, visited many museums and saw a few fireworks. And I kept noticing the same thing everywhere. We have become addicted to cameras. Whenever something interesting is happening, our first instinct is to start taking photos and record video to preserve that special moment. Ironically, this is how we lose the moment forever. Photos steal the soul of our memories.

Each moment of our life is a rich explosion of perception, emotion and thought. What we see and hear is only a small part of every moment. When we look at reality through high resolution screens of our cameras and focus on getting the best shot, we are not experiencing that moment fully.

(I imagine life experience as a trajectory in a many-dimensional space: some axes encode the visual image, other axes capture emotions and still other speak of thoughts. Taking photos is like projecting this space onto a subspace with fewer dimensions. I have argued before that the space of life experience is infinite; I can even believe it is infinitely dimensional.)

The point of traveling and experiencing new things is not to take new and new photos. It is to truly live and remember those moments in the entirety of what they have to offer. Of course our memory is not as reliable as a digital photo – but it encompasses so much more! It is better to have imperfect but rich memories supported by a handful of carefully taken photos, rather than having hundreds of photos of everything and real experience of nothing.

New Year at the Flinders Street Station in Melbourne How many displays can you count?

I wonder what causes this obsession. It is not just the boom of smartphones with cameras. More than a few tourists carry ridiculously expensive and heavy professional cameras and use them to point and shoot the most mundane pictures. Perhaps we take so many photos because we realize how fleeting the present is, and deep down we know that only that which perishes is valuable to us.

Sadly, the present moment, irreplaceable and unrepeatable, itself becomes shallow and loses its value if all we care about is recording it for the future. Instead of endlessly capturing tomorrow’s yesterday, we should try and live today.

February 17, MMXIII — Life Lessons.