Smartphone Cameras Are Destroying 'The Moment'

Last weekend I accompanied my five-year-old son to his little-league team photo shoot.

The professional photo studio and “baseball field backdrop” in the elementary-school gym made for a strange scene  -- specially considering there was a real baseball field a few feet outside, and it was a sunny day with beautiful light.

But things got really strange when 10 parents urgently whipped out their smartphones to capture their own shots of the professional photographer taking the official team photo.

Even stranger, the parents were paying more attention to their smartphones and the act of shooting than to their kids.

As a result, the parents made for a more interesting picture than their kids, who were sitting around patiently in pose. For that, I felt sorry for the kids.

This scene was at once ironic, cliched and metaphysical.

As a participant, I captured my own photo evidence here.

The ramifications of this all-too-common behavior transcend parenting and baseball.

Digital cameras in smartphones have prompted a new shutterbug addiction fueling three disturbing trends:

1. Sacrificing the moment. If you’re screwing around with a clumsy gadget, your senses and attention to the moment degrade. Research has shown that using a smartphone while driving is akin to driving while intoxicated. Logic would suggest the same goes for using a smartphone while engaging in any other activity.

2. Redefining the moment. Like the “helicopter shutterbugs” I described earlier, screwing around with a clumsy gadget while capturing the moment can completely alter the scene. It can create a spectacle and command attention away from the original focus. The observer becomes the observed.

3. Prioritizing capture and sharing over the moment. Are people deliberately prioritizing the capture of the moment over the moment itself? For many, the former is is becoming a bigger accomplishment, a greater pleasure, and a higher calling.

The result is a life construct that devalues immersion and experience in favor of evidence and sharing. It propagates an expectation that life doesn’t exist without evidence and sharing. It desensitizes living and feeling.

To me, that’s inhumane. I don’t like it.

I believe the right life balance is one with high immersion and experience. Secondary should be highly selective and limited photo capture and sharing.

What about you?



14 comments about "Smartphone Cameras Are Destroying 'The Moment' ".
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  1. Daniel Fell from ND&P, April 24, 2012 at 10:57 a.m.

    Having just returned form spring break in Orlando with the kids, I can relate. In a character photo line at Epcot the same strange behavior played out and clearly Disney is sensitive to this as they accommodated all the parents - including myself - with (predominately smartphone) cameras. By the end of the day however I decided I had missed a lot of the moments and they took better pictures anyway.

  2. Corey Kronengold from NYIAX, April 24, 2012 at 11 a.m.

    I'm with ya, Max. I'm as guilty as the next guy, but there's so many people with their cameras out the whole time at a concert, I wonder if they are even enjoying the show.

  3. Rebecca Fulton from Valpak, April 24, 2012 at 11:02 a.m.

    I cannot tell you how irritating this phenomenon is to me. I own a photography company, and the amount of people that have their phones out during a wedding ceremony to take photos is astonishing. I don't think that most people could even tell you what the bride was wearing. Additionally, the number of people that try to take photos while the formals are being taken is crazy. I have to literally tell them to wait until I'm done.

    I am not against smart phone cameras, it is great for people to be able to capture moments to remember. But when there is an important event going on, let the professionals capture the day, sit back and enjoy!

  4. Thomas Kurz from EFP, April 24, 2012 at 11:23 a.m.

    While I completely understand the frustration shared by many, I prefer to look at the smart phone as a next generation Bic lighter when it comes to concerts...also, I can say for certain that my concert going experiences have not been negatively impacted by these devices...if anything I am grateful for the pictures that I have.

  5. Chuck Lantz from, network, April 24, 2012 at 11:27 a.m.

    I literally watched my son grow up looking through the viewfinder of video cameras. And as the article says, I missed the total experience of every one of The Moments, wrongly thinking that I was saving them for posterity.

    ... And I don't even want to admit how few times we've watched those videos.

  6. Kathy Broniecki from Envoy, Inc., April 24, 2012 at 11:39 a.m.

    Great perspective and hopefully will give many a good introspective look. My experience has been that it's better to be in the moment rather than trying to capture it.

  7. Amber Gregory from Triggerfish Marketing, April 24, 2012 at 11:40 a.m.

    As a professional photographer myself, I can relate to this immensely. Rebecca Fulton's comment basically says it all, as I experience the very same things during the weddings I shoot. Even when I ask the bride and groom to be firm with their family members about photography, usually it does no good. It saddens me that this has the double effect of taking the guests out of the moment on a very special day, AND of decreasing the perceived value of the professional's work. Everyone loses.

  8. Jason Klein from Selligent, April 24, 2012 at 12:29 p.m.

    I admit that I've been intoxicated with trying to capture the moment via digital photos - but I hear admission is the first step to overcoming the problem. :-) Rather than quit cold turkey, I think moderation - like most things - is the way to go. Taking a photo or two of a concert to capture the moment doesn't do much to diminish the experience - but constantly snapping photos throughout certainly would. The other issue with being snap happy is the sheer volume of photos being generated, which provide a lot of distraction from the better photos in one's library.

  9. Melissa Angus from House Party, April 24, 2012 at 1:03 p.m.

    Loved this article because it is so true!
    I have always been a fan of snapping away photos during life's most fun moments - and now as a new mom - more than ever! However, I like to remind myself of the song that John Mayer wrote and sung so well "3x5" - that it is important to slow down and take it in with your own 2 eyes and 'to stop trying to fit the world inside a picture frame'. Enjoy the lyrics here: I'm writing you to
    catch you up on places I've been
    And you have this letter
    you probably got excited, but there's nothing else inside it
    didn't have a camera by my side this time
    hoping I would see the world through both my eyes
    maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm
    in the mood to lose my way with words
    Today skies are painted colors of a cowboy cliche'
    And its strange how clouds that look like mountains in the sky
    are next to mountains anyway
    Didn't have a camera by my side this time
    Hoping I would see the world through both my eyes
    Maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm
    in the mood to lose my way
    but let me say
    You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
    it brought me back to life
    You'll be with me next time I go outside
    No more 3x5's
    I Guess you had to be there
    I Guess you had to be with me
    Today I finally overcame
    tryin' to fit the world inside a picture frame
    Maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm in the mood to
    lose my way but let me say
    You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
    it brought me back to life
    You'll be with me next time I go outside
    no more 3x5's
    just no more 3x5's

  10. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 24, 2012 at 2:40 p.m.

    Thoughtless, selfish, egotistical and makes the me generation look like the you generation. When we see people being as self centered, irresponsible and reckless, think of the parents and their teachings. Time for someone who has some humanity to turn around and say that's enough and why. If the observers cannot keep their pants on, then show them the door and explain courtesy to them and the kids. No phones or other cameras around when someone else is taking professional photos. After the professional is done, then it's fair game.

  11. Laura Ashley from TailoredMail, April 24, 2012 at 5:29 p.m.

    Agree with Max and the comments here. What is also so sad is that if you don't play along with the "capture the moment" game, other parents look at you as if you don't care--when it's the exact opposite.

  12. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., April 24, 2012 at 6:50 p.m.

    For what it's worth, a few years ago, I went to the Louvre and observed the huge crowd in front of the Mona Lisa, all trying to get a picture with their cameras or smartphones. Surely they knew they could buy a better photo of the Mona Lisa in the gift shop. But would it have the "authenticity" of a crappy photo on their phone? I counseled a friend to take a picture of the people taking pictures. THAT was a more intriguing moment than any shot of the painting.

  13. Jeff Werlwas SEM Product Manager from Deluxe Corporation, April 24, 2012 at 8:49 p.m.

    There are times to capture moments and times to be in the moment.
    The main reason everyone races to get pictures is because they can. If you think about it, it’s really still a novelty to be able to capture almost any moment on video or photo. And then to be able to pump it out to the world. Awesome!
    Smartphones have made picture taking easier to snap and to share. But now I think we’re reaching Photo Opportunity Overload (POO). People snap — never look back.
    The sad thing is I think people who take these types of pictures truly believe that other people really WANT to see the pictures. Seriously, if you’re not a good photographer (and if all you have is your smartphone – you’re probably not) no one really wants to see your fuzzy, blurred, badly lit, poor composition snapshots. (OK, unless it’s a celebrity in a compromising position.)
    I mean honestly, when was the last time you went to friends and asked them to break out the digital videos and pictures of your daughter’s recital?
    There’s enough good content out there. Don’t force dozens of crappy pictures on the rest of the world. So enjoy the moment, but more importantly – let us enjoy it.

  14. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, April 25, 2012 at 4:06 p.m.

    Reminds me of Louis C.K.'s hilarious take on this exact phenomenon, experiencing life through the mini-screen:

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