Today we drove a short distance along the coast, deciding to walk a tree-lined stretch of gravel track beside a golf course. Every weather app and news outlet had forecasted an incoming storm; the breeze was powerful, the air so fresh we gulped it into our stagnant office bodies, and the waves turned white in the Forth.
It was a beautiful winter’s day. I had my hat, scarf and little mitts on; B was shivering slightly in his thin waterproof. On our ‘regular’ walks — that is, ones we do on lazy weekend days around our local area — I don’t have many expectations. I’m used to the surroundings, I’m disconnected from any notion of documentation, because this is just time for us to recalibrate after a working week.
I had to stop myself from taking my phone out of my pocket.
As we walked, though, I noticed the bright green fingers of this year’s daffodils poking through the grass. Beside the track, in front of gardens, bright snowdrops and crocuses framed our onward direction. The weather warning for later today seemed the height of parochial fake news as we stood in the sunlight, little signs of spring all around us.
Yet, as I noticed the flowers, I had to stop myself from taking my phone out of my pocket. Why that anxiety, that desperation, to document? I have spoken about this before in the Hashtag Scotland series, but it always bothers me profoundly when I feel that instinct rise inside myself, and struggle to fight it.
We strolled past several glades carpeted with the fresh, white flowers, and I managed to leave my device untouched until the return leg of our walk. By then, the early afternoon sun was shining through the blank trees, lighting the snowdrops and their green stalks as tiny birds dropped down into the soil. They were bullfinches, blue tits, robins. It was one of those moments in nature that is so perfect it cannot be replicated through a lens; so perfect, nevertheless, that you cannot stop yourself from wanting to capture it, if not in your memory, then at least in your camera roll.
Why that anxiety, that desperation, to document?
So I took a picture. A minute afterwards, I looked behind us and saw a girl, crouched on the ground like I had been, snapping the same photograph on her phone. During lunch, I edited the picture, even though nature is beautiful enough without a filter. I then typed these contradictory thoughts, uploaded my two images, and published this post. I’ll probably even share the photo on Instagram. All this as if to elongate and preserve an already perfect moment, spent walking through little outdoor idylls, with the person I love.
Nicolas, my partner for the Hashtag Scotland project, recently shared an article with me (in French) where sociologist Hartmut Rosa discusses Instagram. He says, “Of course there’s a temptation to fill your feed with photos. But actually, that inextricably changes the experience by the simple desire to capture it, make it available. From the moment we ask ourselves what kind of photo that experience will provide, we kill the experience itself” [my translation].
The experience changes by the simple desire to capture it.
For a significant number of people on this planet, the temptation of our twenty-first-century existences is not drugs, sex or alcohol. Instead, it seems to be documenting our days; the temptation to take photos and share them as if to say, Look. I’m here. I exist, and my life is beautiful and significant enough to be shared on social media. Whether we take photos for ourselves, for others, or for a combination of the two is still something I’m working out.
Meanwhile, my partner’s phone stayed stoically in his pocket as I held his hand, and the breeze continued to grow.