The problem of plenty

These days we are rarely without a camera, yet how often do we hold an actual photograph? We flip through streams of jpegs, on Tumblr, Instagram and the rest, we ‘like,’ reblog and create virtual slideshows. We get daily dispatches from friends on alpine treks, course-by-course accounts of elaborate meals, and inspect carefully curated interiors. It’s so easy to create an evocative filter that we’ve become suspicious of what we’re looking at. It was not always thus. In the 1950’s photography could rightly be a provocative act. Being photographed was an event not a default setting

Michael Williams writing for  A Continuous Lean

That little piece sums up a lot that has changed in our society. We were not rich, so I only have a few dozen photos of my childhood and my parents. It was because not everyone had cameras and every time you need family photos, you needed a professional. But the ones I have, I cherish them so much. I have memories attached to those photos. 

When I was a kid, getting a landline phone was a momentous event, so much so that I have this notion of appointment calling. It doesn’t matter where I am, every Sunday, I call my parents at a certain time between dinner and when they go to sleep. It is not that I can’t call them every day – I got FaceTime for that – but instead that appointment makes the joy of a three-to-five minute call exceptional. 

Growing up with constraints, I have developed a deeper appreciation of things, moments, experiences and memories. Today, however, those notions are being challenged by modern society whose hallmark is “plenty” and “plenty of choices.” Getting on a plane was such a huge event, but it was expensive, so you always remembered that event. Today, $60 is all it takes you to get you to Los Angeles from San Francisco. We simply have plenty of everything — all the time. And perhaps because of that we have lost the specialness associated “events.”


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