A Picture is Worth 140 Characters

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” It’s a phrase we’re all well acquainted with. I heard a story once about a professional photographer that only took one picture a day. He spent a lot of time in the mountains and saw a lot of beautiful things from sun up to sun down. But as a challenge to himself, he only allowed himself one picture. This was before the days of digital cameras too. He had to take time, carefully considering his exposure, his angle, his zoom . . . he carefully figured the science to each picture before clicking the shutter. And then he had to wait until the film was finished to see how it turned out. Imagine the devastation he must have felt if one of his pictures was blurry! Or what if he saw the most beautiful sunset he’d ever seen, but took a picture of the dew earlier that morning!

But now, in 2014, I don’t really think “a picture is worth a thousand words” is the way the world runs, but instead “a picture is worth 140 characters.” We whip out our iPhones and what do we do- we “snap” a picture and send it to all our friends. We doodle a mustache over our friends’ face, write a few words over top of it, and send it out. Our friends open the picture, laugh, perhaps take a screen shot, and then the photo disappears.

Or, we spend far too long crafting our posts. We wait for the lighting to hit our face just right, form a smile that we’ve perfected for the camera, and take at least three pictures before we come up with one we’re willing to post. We write and re-write our captions, trying to create something that will capture as much attention as we can get.

A recent song by The Chainsmokers called #Selfie makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

Can you guys help me pick a filter?
I don’t know if I should go with XX Pro or Valencia
I wanna look tan
What should my caption be?
I want it to be clever
How about “Livin’ with my bitches, hash tag LIVE”
I only got 10 likes in the last 5 minutes
Do you think I should take it down?

What makes me most uncomfortable about this song is the fact that this is a conversation that is similar to the ones that happen with me and my girlfriends weekly. If you’ve noticed, I’ve used the pronouns “I”, “me”, and “we” throughout this post. This is something I have a problem just like so many other people in our culture today. It’s how we’ve grown up as millennials.  I’m sure you know what they say about us. We’re all about instant gratification and living with a very narcissistic attitude. If a picture gets only 10 likes in 5 minutes, we take it down. We snap and upload, snap and upload, snap and upload, and the most thought that goes into these photos are what filters to put on them.

I’m not asking for a revolution to end selfies.  It’s a lot of fun to make silly faces with friends and get a good laugh out of them every once and a while. But these pictures aren’t always necessary for the whole world to see, and they usually aren’t worth more than the 140 characters they are allowed.

What I’m asking for is for us to start thinking about these thousand-word-pictures . . . to hold off with being so quick to take a picture of a moment, and spend more time living in that moment.

That photographer that I mentioned earlier probably had to let a lot of photo-worthy moments go by. And you know what? He lived. He walked away with pictures that come to life through stories and mental imagery. That’s all I ask of our generation today. Take time to set the iPhone down, and instead of snapping the moment, live it.

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