Do You Record Life--or Live It?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last month my beloved little sister graduated with her master's degree. Along with hundreds of other families, we crowded an auditorium at Case Western Reserve University, waiting for our loved one's name to be called, for them to receive their diplomas, tangible proof that the years of overnighters spent writing, researching, and reading were all coming to fruition.

As I watched the graduates' faces, they conveyed mixed emotions--exuberance, relief, peace, elation. The loved ones faces were harder to gauge, as most were pressed to viewfinders of video cameras or watching through display screens on digital cameras.

Instead of observing this monumental occasion and watching it unfold in real time--the culmination of almost two decades of education, hundreds of thousands of well-spent dollars, and infinite wisdom gained--most people were witnessing it through the filter of electronic media.

It made me pause.

By recording every moment big and small, are we really living? Can we fully experience an event if we're simultaneously trying to capture it for posterity?

Among my friends, I am known for two contradictory traits:

  1. I am quick to whip out my camera.
  2. Those photos rarely leave my camera until my memory card is full.

My dear friend Sarah refers to my camera as a "big blue hole" for photos. (My camera is blue.)

A few years ago, my camera was an omnipresent accessory only when I traveled. At some point, perhaps when I was living overseas and I saw every moment as an opportunity for adventure, my camera became a standard fixture in my purse.

These days, inside even my tiniest evening bag you'll find: lip balm, change purse, license, debit card, mints, phone, keys, and yes, camera.

The weekend of that graduation was a special time for my family. Not only were we all celebrating my sister's academic prowess, but we were together, happy, and at peace--not an easy task with any family! The previous night, during a long wait for food at the , I played photographer, capturing glimpses of my almost-grown siblings, the sister of honor and her husband, my best friend/honorary sister, and me and my boyfriend. I felt like the mood was rare, and I wanted to remember it.

The next day, at graduation, I wanted to watch. A couple hundred feet from the stage, smack in the middle of a row, my camera had to zoom in very close to capture the graduates' faces. With plenty of other cameras around, I decided to just sit back and watch. I didn't take any photos of the graduation, though we did take plenty of family photos after the ceremony.

I thought about all those video recordings, photos, and even Tweets and status updates. If you fail to share it with the world, is an event any less important? Does anyone really watch videos of awards ceremonies later on? Who really wants to see hundreds of photos from your last vacation?

Since that revelation, I've tried to think twice before pulling out my camera. Is it necessary to take photos of every moment? No. Yoga, my brother's high-school graduation ceremony, a casual rooftop dinner with close friends, a visit with my grandmother have all passed with nary a photograph to immortalize them. Do those memories fade without photographic representation? Perhaps someday, but not yet. Are they any less important? Were they any less special to me?

This quotation, from one of my favorite authors and spiritual teachers, sprung to mind:

"To the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only past and future are considered important. This total reversal of the truth accounts for the fact that in the ego mode the mind is so dysfunctional. It is always concerned with keeping the past alive, because without it - who are you?" -- Eckhart Tolle

Who I am right now is just as important--and often more--as whom I was and whom I will be.

Instead of focusing on capturing every moment, I'm going to focus on living every moment.

"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." -- Henry Miller

I'll still photograph the high points, but in the mean time, I'll be leaving my camera turned off more often. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but a thousand words speak what photos can't.

Do you think people spend more time capturing life than actually living it? Are there times when you would prefer that people just not pull out the cameras?

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I agree! I am totally guilty of going picture crazy. When I first started going to concerts by myself, I used to always bring my camera and take tons of pics. I would spend the whole show trying to get the best photos and eventually I realized that I wasn't really enjoying the performance. Now I strive to strike a balance... I keep my camera in my pocket and pull it out here and there for some visual proof of the event, but it's definitely not at the forefront of my mind. The same will be true for other events from now on, too. :o) Report
I need to start letting others take a few pics. I don't have many with me in them. Although I hate seeing myself in pics. but that is changing little by little. Report
At around age 10 I decided that it was more fun to be in the middle of the action rather than on the sidelines capturing it. Like so many others, I take pictures but rarely look at them later.
My dh gave me a camera for my birthday last year and I've been enjoying it. I take pictures of the birds that visit our feeders and then identify them. Having a picture of them, makes it easier to distinguish a Downy Woodpecker from a Hairy Woodpecker, a Lesser Goldfinch from an American Goldfinch, or a Purple Finch from a House Finch.
with child number two this entered my head, I want to be the one with him in his records. My oldest son has dad hugging him the the goalie box, hoisting him to his shoulders after his home run, I took the pictures now I take my friend Cindy along she is the official family photogapher. Report
When my niece was young, we didn't have access to cameras ... digital or otherwise ... and although the memories are still there and still fresh, I wish I had photographs of those memories. For myself and for her.

I have a top of the line video-recording digital camera now. I have cellphone camera/video now and to me they make the memories better. She, her brother, and I love to sit and watch them (sometimes days, sometimes months later) and laugh. We have a record for the future ... and for future generations.

I'm a historian, though, so ... archival records = full of win for me. :-) I'm still living the history, though! Report
I have been saying the same thing just recently. I do think that there is a place for pictures and at least the people I know especially my family love to look back on times gone by, what we looked like 10 years ago, places we've visited, people who are no longer with us. I have seen people, though who JUST take pictures and don't really look at the surroundings while they are there. Pictures often don't capture what you see or EVERYTHING you see. I think that there is a happy medium. Report
I am a picture taker and I even put them in folders. Now with the on-line snapfish etc., it so much easier. I do understand how it might seem that I am not enjoying the time but I am. Then I get to enjoy again when I look at the pictures and share them with others. Report
Very interesting blog. My husband is always toting the camera around, and always giving me a hard time for not thinking of it. If it were only up to me we'd never have pictures, not because I don't want them, but because I always forget about the camera. I've always said I hated looking at things through the camera, I wanted to live in the moment and enjoy it, burn it into my memory I'd say. BUT, my kids have recently taken a big interest in looking at old photos and movies that my husband has taken over the years since they were babies (I can probably take credit for a handful, bu that's it). They're all stored on a computer, another gripe of mine, we all have to gather around the computer to view our memories. But there are pictures and moments that I had completely forgotten about, I was brought back to that moment, not a graduation or a recital, but just an everyday moment in our lives, it was wonderful. There's a balance to be struck, you can choose to not live your life watching it from behind the lens, but you will forget things as you get older and it's such a treat to have those memories come flooding back. Wish I could just hire a photographer, that way I can live in the moment and have the stored memories! Report
Being a shutterbug I know how I can become obsessed with getting that perfect shot. Earlier this month I was at a family wedding and before the ceremony I made the decision to put my lens in the bag and appreciate the event! Your message is a reminder for all of us to consider looking through our minds lens more often. Report
I hate when friends/family are so busy with their cameras that they don't interact with anyone or they try to stop the flow of activities to take pictures. A few candid photos can bring back a million memories if you're actually participating in the event. Report
Video taping an entire experience ........ can certainly make you miss out. And the tape is rarely as good as the memory in my opinion.

My extended family (from all over the US) went to the tropical beach we all grew up on for a walk as the sun was rising. One person recorded the entire walk on video. It detracted from my experience and just how much did he get out of it by having his attention 100% on film making?

Likewise I refused to have my wedding video taped! Memories can be better than reality! LOL Report
Interesting. My sister and I have season tickets to the Seattle Storm (WNBA team). Though cameras are allowed and I'm generally a little photo happy, I take my camera to only one or two games per year because I find that if I'm taking photos I'm not experiencing the game. I definitely think that there are times to let someone else take the photos (or to take fewer photos) and just experience the event. Report

I use a tiny digital camera and flip video. It’s unobtrusive, accessible all the time, and captures moments in time that make my loved ones smile. These aren’t the graduation moments but are the ‘I can’t believe you just hit me with a water balloon” or ‘what the heck kind of bug is this?’ moments. My photography is an extension of me living the moment. I share the best and continuously learn new technology.

As my kids were growing up, my mother-in-law took lots of photos. My kids and I are grateful she did because it was a time in my life that my work and child-rearing took all the time I had. She helped me learn to cherish the small moments and not always focus on the future.
I never realized this point... but you are absolutely right! I actually got upset at my boyfriend a month ago for not taking any pictures of my birthday party. I had "nothing to remember it by." After reading your blog, I realize how selfish that statement was. I wonder if I gave the impression that I didn't care about the moments of my party only about the proof of it afterwards (to post of Facebook). Thank you for giving me a reason to self reflex. Report
Interesting blog. My daughter lives to take pictures of her children. I believe she has about 200 albums full, and has a hard time erasing any photo on her digital camera, even if it's nearly the same as the one before. I do believe she is missing out on the moment by trying to capture it on film -- especially when her decision to do something is based on what kind of photos can be produced. The backdrop becomes more important than the event. Report
This blog resonated with me. The camera things was never an issue for me, but Twitter was!

I recently decided to take a break from Twitter for this very reason. I was announcing everything. If I was absent for a day, fellow Twits would ask if I was ok. Had I fallen ill or off a cliff?

It was like if I wasn't announcing it on Twitter, it hadn't happened. Finally, I came to the conclusion that the world (or at least the Library of Congress, who is storing all Tweets) didn't need to know my opinion on the latest headlines, or about the funny thing that happened on the dog walk, or about the great meal I just ate.

It's been 2 weeks since I went on my Twitter diet. I simultaneously went on a Facebook diet, too. Hearing about all of my 500+ friends' opinions on breaking headlines, dog walk stories, and fantastic meals was getting to be too much. I was inundated with useless info.

Heck, I was drowning in it.

Right now, I'm taking a Spark break. That's it. One thing at a time. I might check in with the news tonight to see what's going on in the world. But I might wait until tomorrow. We'll see when we get there.

One thing at a time. Report
I ALWAYS take my camera, with the intention of getting wonderful photos for future viewing. What happens, though, is that I get too wrapped up in being a part of what's going on that I only take a few. This was a really interesting blog! Thanks! Report
It's funny, I was talking about this with a co-worker just last week! My husband is a photographer and is always worried about getting the shot; he doesn't take many candid shots, though. I, on the other hand, tend to forget to take photos unless I am reminded. In my opinion, the moments are not less precious or memorable because pictures aren't being taken, but the act of taking the picture can affect the whole feel of the moment. At the same time, I do enjoy have the reprints to look at later, so I tend not to argue when somebody else wants to take pictures. :) Report
Seems that Stepf is asking a spiritual question, or at least a cultural or philosophical one. In other words, what is our view of life? How do we choose to live it?

"If you fail to share it with the world, is an event any less important?"

Perhaps Stepf is rebelling a bit against the need to reveal all, tell all, and lose all boundaries of privacy in today's world. Photos once were printed and cherished in homes (and were rarities). They're now carried in hip pocket devices and instantly available to all people via digital means. Moments of sweet joy and personal satisfaction are now broadcast as public tweets, rather than recorded in written journals and diaries for later reflection.

Apparently Stepf hit a nerve, judging from the comments I've read. Most are pretty defensive. I think Stepf definitely is in the minority on this issue. I applaud her for having the courage to bring up the subject.

It's ok to do scrapbooking, photograph at will, blog and tweet freely. But, are we missing something? When I was a kid, I remember reading
an Emily Dickenson poem that said something like:

"How dreary to be somebody
How public, like a frog
To croak your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog."

As a child, I loved looking at the old photo albums -- pictures of my mom and dad, my grandmother, great aunts & uncles as children and young adults, as well as the photos of those who died before I was born. Pictures of their lives in the dust bowl during the depression brought an extra dimension to the stories my grandpa and my dad loved to tell, including the fact that they were usually smiling and looked happy in these photos. I can still picture in my mind's eye the photo of myself in my mother's arms the day she brought me home from the hospital. You can't tell me she wasn't living that moment. I can see the happiness in her eyes. For the 25 years I worked in an office in front of a computer, I had but to look up to see a photo of my husband and me taken outside the church on the day we were married. It more than once helped me keep my perspective when the work day got tough. On my book shelf I have many photos displayed of friends and family, many of whom are no longer with us. And yes, I do look at them with pleasure.

So I think that this blog over simplifies.There is a balance to be reached here as in all things. Report
Hmmm a scrapbookers and professional photographers worst nightmare. I rarely go anywhere without my camera. It kind of hurt my feelings with the knowledge that someone would think I am NOT living my life because I take pictures. I know, for me you have to know when it is ok and when it is not ok to take pictures. If I am in a group of people and all of us have cameras I don't feel I need to have the same picture of the group picture on MY camera. I can get a copy of someone else! Report
I am CRAZY about taking pictures! I love taking them, looking at them, scrapbooking them, all that. But it's funny that I read this blog post because there have been several times that I have caught myself and thought..."Put down the camera, you're missing it!" I still love taking pictures, but I have learned to put. the. camera. down. It's hard when you have kids as beautiful as mine. :) My intentions have always been good. I don't want to forget even one precious moment of my kids' childhood, but I have found that I still have plenty of pictures. Scrapbooks and pictures can be damaged or lost, but no one will ever be able to take away they memories I am making with my family. Report
I take a lot of pictures for my blogs but believe I have the balance of living it as well.

My hubby hates having his picture taken & I honor his request not to. Report
I love to take photos and I enjoy looking at them too. It helps me to remember the events, but not necessarily to relive them.. One example... when my son was baptized, I have a photo of it, but I missed the actual event with my own "eye lens". I wish so much that I had someone else take photos and I had just watched. Report
I know what you are saying, but there are personality differences here. Some people are by nature "collectors" and photos and souvenirs mean so much, especially after the people in them are dead and gone, as long as you don't get so involved in the photography that you miss the good times altogether then there is no happy memory to remind you of. There is also an age difference. When you are old, disabled, and all alone and can't do these things anymore, those remembrances will mean so much--to cuddle in an afghan your grandma made you and look at family photos of people long gone or travels when you were young and vigorous and able to do such things. look at old prom and wedding pictures and re-experience what it was like to be desireable and sought after. It being said that I understand people photographing and filming events to save for a future when bad times come and they need happy events to hold onto, what I don't understand are those who yap on their cell phones and thumb their text messages while missing the here and now of life--those folks are really the big losers. Report
I'm not a photographer and rarely take pictures. Part of the reason is that I find I rarely look at pictures after the fact. When I travel, I revel in each minute, soaking in the sights and ambiance. Those "pictures" I'll have with me forever. On the other hand, I have a friend who is a professional photographer. She absolutely loves to take pictures, edit and develop them. Her work is exquisite. Great topic on this blog - I think people should do what they enjoy and what works well for them as individuals. Report
I am sometimes guilty of spending too much time at events recording rather than experiencing but not nearly as much as those I noted at my favourite amusment park in Florida. I wondered then whether those people would spend as much time reviewing the video when they returned home as they had spent recording it in the first place. And would they acctually remember the experience itself? Report
I've never been a good picture taker. I'll walk around with a camera in my hand for hours and take maybe 2 pictures because for the most part, I forget I have it. What I like to do is give my camera to someone else, someone who likes taking pictures. I guess I'm living mostly in the moment!

Concerts are something people want to photograph but should really just live.
I went to a concert and took so many photos and videos without actually relaxing and enjoying the performance.
Once I realized that, the next concert I went to, I took a few pictures just to have, but spent most of my time dancing and enjoying myself.
Sometimes technology feels like such an obligation and an obstruction, but we must not forget to live a REAL life! Report
Photos and video can be over done sometimes... But a few can be senimental. Report
It seems to me that in some peoples' minds, the camera and its pictures are more important than the event. And it can be downright annoying. Since school is now out, one of the pools at which I attend a water exercise class also has group swimming lessons going on at the same time. The lessons are distraction enough, but there is one woman who takes picture after picture at every lesson. I doubt she can photograph her little darling without also including some of us in the water exercise class. I find this extremely irritating and inappropriate.
I also like to take pictures, but I sometimes leave my own camera at home because I find that it can get in the way of fully experiencing an event. Yes there is a time and place for taking pictures and it is certainly nice to have those reminders of the good times of our lives. But, as Spark People teaches us, "everything in moderation". It applies here too. Report
I am a photographer, so photos are REALLY important to me. BUT, I have to agree. I take enough photos now to get the idea of a few baseball games for instance. Then I can sit and be a real mom. I don't just have to be that mom with the big black thing up to my eye all the time. I wanna enjoy the moments like real people and not always have to work!!! thanks for posting this and making me realize again what I need to do as a mom and wife. Enjoy the little things more! thanks Report
Well as in all things ,there is the two sides of life,and short for Choice,to do or not do,that is the question. Were would we be without the two sides? Choice,good -bad,love -hate,up -down,etc. As some have said ,it depends on the person.Myself I was the picture taker.But like some too ,I have few pictures with me in them.And heard the No, dont take mine,But I wish I was in alot of those pictures,so to say I was there .Cause I get but you are not in the picture,and all I can say, well I am one who took it.WoW. But too I always look around for a time before,and after so I do get that life moment,of were and when, plus I get a picture of that moment. So I disagree ,For I do get both, picture and that life moment. So sometimes one can get both sides of life, in this case ,moment at hand and lasting one in the picture.Plus think about it? Were would we be without pictures?Pictures are like words in a book,they are around long after we are gone.Ted Report
this brings up a really GREAT point. i read lots of blogs - mine included and I have noticed where we are all trying to show-off our lives to other 'gawkers' - and if we are so busy snapping shots of what we got or how good things are in our neck of the woods, are we really living our lives? i really am glad somebody else had the same idea! Thanks! Report
Who says you can't do both? I have been taking photographs since I was a child. My father taught me how to use a camera and I've been doing it ever since. If it wasn't for some of the pictures I've taken, some of the memories of those times may have faded. On the other hand, I don't feel like I am not living in the moment just because I am taking pictures. It's all about your own point of view. Report
The real problem is summed up in the title of the blog. If you are behind the camera, you are not participating. I want to participate with my family. If I bring a camera to a water park, Disney, beach, springs etc., I am limited in my participation to the abuse the camera can withstand. I would rather have a memory of doing than a picture of watching. I am not a human being, I am a human doing. Report
I guess you'd have to say I live life because I have the opposite problem. I never have a camera with me, even when on trips away from home. Sometimes I wish I had taken pictures of where we have been and people we have seen. My memory is so hazy these days that it would be nice to have the reminders. But I don't think I will ever be able to make carrying a camera a habit. I like having my hands free to touch and feel. Report
I have thought about this too. Seeing something through the lens is NOT like fully viewing it with both eyes wide open, unobstructed.
As I am getting older, this seems even more important to me. I should be experiencing the feeling and the event, not trying to save it for......who???? I doubt very much my kids will really want to go through my photo albums. Let's start living for mthe moment ...not the future. Report
I take tons of pictures, and in my family, I'm known as the photographer. So, usually I'm not in the picture. Even though I used to hate being in the picture due to my weight, I would still occassionally make sure that I passed the camera to someone else, so I could be in the picture. This is because I have very few pictures of my mother, who also hated to get her picture taken, and now she is gone. Anyway, now that I've lost weight I like getting my picture taken a little more. Regardless, pictures are great reminders of loved ones, treasured memories. To me, a picture is worth a thousand words. However, I agree that sometimes (during a performance, for example) it's best to just sit back and enjoy the show and not through the viewfinder. Report
I don't totally agree with you. I live in the present, but I love to take pictures of family, my gardens, whatever. I love looking over old photos . Especially of loved ones that aren't here any longer and when I was taking that picture I said to myself someday in the future I will look back at these pictures or videos and hear that voice I no longer can hear and see the person in real life poses we may never again experience . I will still take my pictures and yes I still enjoy the moment. Report
On our last big vacation, my husband took a ton of pictures. He kept wanting to stop & photograph everything. I chided him that he would see all of Europe only through the camera lens. He got a little irked that I would only pose for a couple of photos in front of some landmark & said we'd appreciate having the memories. But really, after initially looking through the photos after we got home, we've barely looked at them since. There are a few we have printed out or posted somewhere, but only a few out of a hundred or so. Better just to have a few photos at key times and spend the bulk of your time living in the moment & seeing things first hand. Report
This is something I've thought about for some time. My fiance is a photographer and loves to take pictures at events. One time, when a particularly interesting thing was going on stage (I can't remember what the event was anymore), I looked over at him and saw that he was staring intently down at his camera, looking back at the pictures he'd just snapped, trying to figure out if his settings were correct and whether he needed to change them, and he was missing all that was going onstage. And it hit me all of a sudden that he's constantly viewing life through his viewfinder, though that limited view of the lens that most times doesn't expand wide enough to cover everything that we can see with our own eyes. And I really wished that he would put down the camera just for a bit and enjoy what there is to see without that limiting gateway. Although, he does realize that a constant camera is not always necessary, and at our more personal outings, he does focus on us rather than the viewfinder. Being a photo-taking lover is both a blessing and a curse. Report
What this blog did was make me think of the friends I have that have personal blogs and facebook accounts and blog endlessly with their photos and comments about their families DAILY lives and events. Not just special occasions. I wonder how many of them are really living in the moment when they feel the need to capture ever single moment of their life, and post it on a blog. When they are taking pictures of their kids swimming...are they enjoying the moment? Or thinking what photos they will use on their blog?

With that said, I can't imagine not being able to look back at all the special occasions, or even what some would think of as "ordinary moments" that have been taken with my cameras over the years. One of our favorite times as a family is to get out our scrapbooks and think about all the fun we have had. And people who have lost items in fires always say, that what they miss the most are their precious photos.

I don't and won't own a camera, for these very reasons.

The Bedouin have a saying: "When you travel in a landrover through the desert, you're not in the desert, you're in a landrover".

The same thing applies to experiencing all your most significant and beautiful moments through a viewfinder. Report
Well I love taking pictures, the problem is usually just of my face and if someone happens to get a pic of more than my face I always try to crop it or throw it away. But pics of my children and grandchildren and husband are the best thing to have. I also always take pics or rcord our get togethers. Report
My father was a professional photographer and grew up having my picture at every occasion. The memories behind those pictures are priceless. All my siblings have cameras and we exchange pictures on a regular basis. I could not do without my pictures... Report
i hate having my picture taken.. and find ways to throw them away, including wedding pictures with me in it.. but i cherish every picture of my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.. some of our vacation shots were the best ever... there is a time and place for everything for those who want to..
it is called freedom of choice.. Report
This article could be aimed at writers, too. Report
this article hurt. As a photographer, I make a living taking pictures to capture moments so that others can live in the moment, but I also always have my camera out, because, ego aside, I wouldnt take pictures of the present if they weren't important.

When I am older and can no longer physically do the things I can do now, it will be freaking excellent to be able to look back and say... well. once upon a time I stood on top of this mountain... and I will not mourn the 4 seconds of time that 'wasted' up there taking that picture that I will cherish forever.

:( ouch Report
I have to admit I'm usually the one going wait where's my camera especially when the photo concerns my son Report