Dayton Ministry Is Making A Difference

I’m rethinking my love/hate relationship with cameras and cell phones.

It used to be that taking a picture was a special enterprise. We used our rolls of film sparingly, even with our first babies, family trips and birthday parties. We’d only take a few pictures because they were expensive to develop and economy was built into our picture-taking consciousness.

That’s why there may be only a few dozen pictures of my whole childhood. Conversely, my children take a few dozen pictures every hour it seems, and nothing is off limits. I see pictures of their lunch, their new dresses and their painted toenails. Each moment of their lives is visually recorded and is fodder for public consumption.

We used to pick our moments for pictures the same way we picked which long distance phone calls we were willing to make: It had to be a special occasion. (I still remember calling to my mother upstairs when a long distance phone call came in: “Mom! Hurry up! It’s long distance!”)

Pictures aren’t that special anymore and either are phone calls: photo albums are going the way of the dial telephone.

As human beings, we’ve never been exposed to so many visuals in our lives. Everyone is whipping out their cell phones to show pictures of their remodeled kitchens, their kids, their steak dinners, their sister’s wedding.

Today, about 2.5 billion people have digital cameras. Once upon a time we only took a picture if we were sure it was a good shot; today we take a dozen pictures of the same moment.

Recently, I was walking down a long hall at an airport terminal that was lined with at least three dozen seats on one side and each seat had an occupant. Every single person in those seats was sitting with head bent, looking down at their cell phone. If I had been a true photographer, I would have taken a picture of that scene because it made a perfect statement about how we live today. And what’s interesting is the row of people were all different ages. It’s not just the young folks playing on their phones: everyone is playing on their phones.

When I got to the end of the row, there was one lone woman in the last seat reading a book and I couldn’t help but walk up to her to congratulate her on doing something so wonderful and novel, like reading a real book.

I pointed down the row at the rather robotic looking scene and we both laughed.

My father did some extensive traveling once when he retired, all in one big trip. He bought a very nice camera to bring along, but a few weeks into the trip he packed it away and vowed to use it sparingly.

“I didn’t want to view everything I saw through the lens of a camera,” he said. “I wanted to actually be there.”

As much as smart phones appear to have taken over our lives, there are some benefits. I spent a long time today looking at hundreds of recent photos that have been snapped at family weddings, and the Fourth of July at the lake and picking blueberries or opening Christmas presents. I’m glad it’s all been recorded so profusely for the sake of posterity. Today, too many pictures didn’t seem like such a bad thing after all.

I’m fond of saying that I don’t know where the time goes, but looking at pictures is proof that time is fleeting. The older I get, the more I cherish something that happened five minutes ago because there’s a finality to time that I’m ever more aware of these days. Sometimes I stand alert in a moment and remind myself to cherish it because it’s going away. Each of these moments linked together make up our lives, and with so many pictures to look at I’m reminded how truly beautiful a lifetime is.

When I was growing up outside of Buffalo, we didn’t talk to my grandmother enough here in Jamestown because it was long distance. Before AT&T deregulation, gas was cheaper than calling someone 75 miles away, so we visited more than we called. But when I think of all the days my mother could have talked to her mother to share the minutiae of her life, I feel a little sad about it. Relationships in those days were much more distant and less personal. There was only time to share big news and events–not the silly stories or the small moments that make up a life.

Today, my daughter called to tell me her blinker is broken. I like sharing in her life that way as silly as that seems.

And that is the upside to all this out-of-control-availability to one another. In some ways, we are better for it.