There was a time when photos that developed instantly were considered the cutting edge of technology. Nowadays, those cameras are relegated to novelty items at parties. It’s still fun to grab one of those cameras, look through the viewfinder, and ask the subjects of your photo to “Say cheese!” Then the photo prints out and you get to chat with friends while you wait for the photo to show up. It’s all neat, but it’s not the way photography usually works for almost everyone except professional photographers. For that, we can either thank or blame smartphones.
Photo and video technology
Think for a minute about what digital cameras looked like 10 or 12 years ago. They made blurry and low-quality images, but because you could see the photos instantly on the camera, everyone thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. But a digital camera photo from 2007 now looks almost as old-fashioned as a developed roll of film from 1987. The technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. The fact that we now have a camera on our phone means anything and everything is a subject. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s revolutionized the way society functions. Let’s use an altercation on an airplane as an example. A few years ago, if someone was dragged off the plane the way a man was dragged off a United flight in April 2017, all we would have to go on would be eyewitness reports. Those are certainly valuable, but not as valuable as the video that emerged. Seeing officers become violent with the passenger is a lot different than hearing passengers talk about how officers became violent with the passenger. It’s not a coincidence that United lawyers worked quickly to reach a confidential settlement with the injured passenger. Video is just much more visceral than hearing someone else talk about what they saw.
Then there’s Instagram, a social media app devoted entirely to people sharing photos and videos taken with their smartphone. In fact, you can view Instagram photos on a laptop or desktop, but you can only post photos from your phone, or if you don’t want to do that, from a tablet like an iPad. There are plenty of critics of the Instagram culture, the one that says almost everything is worthy of a photo, from the dinner you’re having to the squirrel you saw eating a nut as you walked into your office today. There’s something of generational divide as well. Millennials think it’s a lot of fun to come up with selfie captions and decide between filters with names like Valencia and Juno. Older adults wonder why the younger generations can’t just keep some things to themselves. Both sides have a case, but the smartphone photo culture isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. So that means it’s up to us to decide how much we want to participate. Smartphones are a godsend when you realize your best friend is proposing to his girlfriend at a small dinner party you’re hosting. You can take out your phone, snap some high-quality photos, and then forward them to the happy couple. But by the time their wedding arrives, it’s probably best to leave the photos to the professional photographer that’s been hired just for the occasion. Put away your phone and just enjoy the ceremony.