James Van Dyne

Lost in Transition

Growing up we had this overly polished wooden chest in the living room that was full of memories. Every so often I’d pull open its lid it and rummage through the contents. It contained all sorts of keepsakes: ribbons from field day, my glow in the dark cast from when I broke my arm in elementary school covered with friends’ signatures, and stacks of odd photos and albums.

Opening the chest and browsing its contents was exhilarating. Each time I knew I’d find something new, even though the contents rarely changed. Looking through the photos I’d suddenly see myself at my 5th birthday party, then a photo of my older brother’s 5th birthday. And a photo of my Mom growing up. A small glimpse into the past.

We mostly used those disposable cameras. The ones where you just drop off the entire thing at the 1-hour photo mart and get back 20-30 memories, with a handful of shots of the cat to finish the roll. Sometimes they turned out. Sometimes they didn’t. Because the photos were limited, we generally posed for photos in some form or fashion.

Like most people, I carry a great camera with me everywhere: my smartphone and I take photos of anything interesting. And also like most people, I rarely go back and view my photos 6 months or a year prior and enjoy them.

And yet, when I do go back and look at photos, the sense of exhilaration and discovery has completely disappeared.

The sales pitch of the digital camera was a no brainer: you’re no longer limited to the number of shots you can take, so you’ll never miss a moment. Let alone have to pay and wait to see the film developed. To their credit, digital cameras do fulfill that hype.

However, the more human connection in a photo has been lost in this transition.

That feeling when you’re sitting around the living room with your friends and family, looking at old photos from years past. Each time you find an interesting photo you exclaim with great excitement “Look what I found!” and quickly pass it around the room. The paper is a bit faded and it smells a bit…old. A conversation develops around this photo and we learn more about our history. Grandpa Joe used to be tough as nails, though it’s hard to see now.

Comparing this with the digital equivalent of huddling around a computer or an iPad…the experience is much less social and that sense of connection to the past is lost.

Is what we’re losing in the digital translation worth the cost? How will my children discover photos from their first Halloween party when they’re all locked on my phone or in my Flickr account? Will our sense of connection with the past be lost? Are the merits of the technology going to last the test of time or are they merely more convenient?

While we are actively making the transition to move all things digital: photos, books, music, and more, we should think twice before embracing it so unquestionably.

The Cost of Being “Social”: Tweeting isn’t free

Who do we follow online? Who’s baby picture is that? How did you come about following this person?

Did they once write a tweet that made us chuckle? Did they retweet an insightful comment? Did once we work together?

I click the Follow button to ease my concern of missing out. I love to laugh and don’t want to miss out on the next great joke. It gives me a feeling of purpose when I know people have read and retweeted my words. It would be rude not to at least pretend to pay attention to that old school friend.

I rarely consider the cost of that one click.

Like most people, I start and end my day in bed, looking at my phone. It’s my alarm clock, my telephone, my camera… my connection to the outside world.

Without even putting on my slippers and heading outside to grab the paper I can catch up with what happened in the world while I was asleep. I start the day with traditional news outlets – catching up on the latest natural disasters and political scandals; before moving right through to the latest gossip and the thoughts of strangers, all while I wait for the coffee to brew.

As I followed more and more people, I noticed that it was taking me longer and longer to read everything. It went from 5 unread items, to 50, and before I knew it, 300+.

Yet I persist.

That slight OCD that we all have to get that red bubble to disappear.

The people we follow tends to reflect our interests as a person. Maybe we look up to them, or like their work, or want to be successful like them. Maybe, we even know this person in real life.

We don’t want to miss out on these “great tweets”, 140 characters that might contain the idea we have been searching for. The meaning of life or the key to our happiness could be just 20 words away. And so every morning, half-asleep, we read. And we are in this in-between state, where we aren’t asleep and we’re not fully awake and our defenses are down.

Whoever they are, we get an intimate look into their life and this intimacy creates a sense of acquaintance that might not actually exist. We see their successes (but rarely their failures). Maybe they raised a million dollars. Or went backpacking through Europe. They bought a house. Snapped a selfie with Derek Jeter in a Shake Shack.

Instead of being happy for them, we wonder. Why wasn’t that us? What are we doing wrong? Did I miss that day of school when we learnt how to do these things? Even if we don’t want to start a business or travel Europe, we feel an urge to at least match their achievements. I never wanted to meet a Yankee player before, but now that @NYCYankee36291 has, I feel like I should.

Our sense of normal gets heavily skewed by all of this noise and the worst part is that we invite it in to our beds.

Over time, this noise makes it difficult to distinguish these stranger’s thoughts from our own. Do we really believe what we just said? Or are we just repeating a stranger’s tweet?

The damage doesn’t have to be permanent. Reducing the noise in your life will make it much simpler. We are like a moth to a flame. Noise is a new bright light pulling us in every different direction. Reduce the noise and the right flame will reveal itself.

Want to hear more?

If you enjoyed what you read and want more, I occasionally send articles like this to people on my mailing list. Enter your email below to stay in the loop.