Al Rasheed: (iPhone) pics or it didn’t happen

It’s Saturday night in Oakland, and, as always, my friends and I go out with hopes of forgetting that the following five days exist. Waiting to order the special of the night, I see a group of girls next to me huddled around what appears, from my perspective, to be a shot of fire. Between the squeals and the “oh my gods,” I hear the one phrase that everyone undoubtedly hears over the course of the night: “I am so Instagramming this.”

I have a hard time believing that in this crowded setting a picture of fire on a glass through a “Valencia” filter will look picture-worthy at all, but almost all the girls around her — except for the birthday girl, who probably thinks she’s at a hibachi restaurant at this point —  take out their phones and commence with the hashtagging, cropping and sharing. Each one is completely glued to her phone.

I understand the value of having something by which to remember significant days such as this. After all, if it weren’t for documentation, many 21st birthdays would not be remembered at all. But moments such as these, when smartphone users take a significant amount of time and effort to simply show what they’re doing in the outside world, make me question whether having access to these devices is actually an advantage. Wouldn’t it just be easier to say, “Cheers!” take the drink and not care if everyone else knows about it? I can’t help but feel that simple experiences, when stripped of thejudgment by others, were much more enjoyable before the smartphone era.

That being said, I was critical upon seeing the latest iPhone commercial, which focuses precisely on Apple’s smartphone. The commercial depicts the iPhone photographing a variety of cute, “candid” life scenes. The commercial is unsurprisingly artistic and, equally unsurprisingly, it caters to a wide audience. We see teenagers skateboarding, parents cheering on their children at competitions, nature lovers in their favorite element and, of course, tourists capturing panoramic photos of their latest destination. At the end of these heartfelt moments, the commercial boasts, “Everyday, more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera.” 

My first issue with the commercial came from the fact that it does not demonstrate the actual quality and types of photos that are so artistically captured from the iPhone each day. If Apple is going to brag about this feat, I would like the company to add in some shots that actually represent the majority of iPhone photos. Perfectly good examples of this would include girls in the standard hand-on-the-hip pose in front of an insignificant venue — Olive Garden or a dorm hallway for instance — a standard grilled cheese that somehow deserves documentation or even just a selfie. 

But the fact that the commercial was unrealistic does not serve as the main basis for my disapproval. What I dislike most is that it basically portrays all of life’s significant moments as existing behind the lens of the iPhone — a phenomena that is proving quite realistic. As in the case of the traveling birthday party mentioned earlier, it appears that one’s experience is worthless without the world knowing about it. 

Why do we allow ourselves to succumb to the anxiety of sharing everything we do, as if our own satisfaction is not enough? Is it really worth the few “likes” you’ll receive later to take away from the moment you’re having right now?

Of course, I’m not saying that the iPhone camera has completely ruined our experiences. There are definitely moments that we are blessed to be able to capture. But maybe instead of trying to use your iPhone to completely recreate experiences for everyone else to see — I’m talking to you, people studying abroad —  we should consider the value of photos when they were scarce, didn’t depict us in the same standard pose and didn’t fit into a square shape for easy sharing. Instead of actively waiting behind our screens to document everything we do, we should look up, enjoy the spontaneity that the night brings us and take out the camera if the moment is right. Believe it or not, there are candid moments that exist, and it can be quite liberating to let them take control every once in a while. 

Still, if the social disconnect doesn’t serve as enough proof that smartphones distract us from the real world, let the safety issues regarding the matter serve as proof. The fact that we have laws exclusively prohibiting cell phone use while operating a vehicle because we can’t manage to let the world of technology wait for a few minutes demonstrates that we have a problem. 

In March of 2012, Pennsylvania officially banned texting while driving, following the path of 39 other states. 

The deaths that prompted the ban should serve as incentive enough to pay attention to the road, but a recent article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states that the law is not sinking in for young drivers. Despite all the new regulations, last year more than 1,300 hundred citations were issued in Pennsylvania alone. I’m not sure what text, tweet or picture is so important that it demands your attention the instant you receive it, but, judging from the commonplace subject matter it usually covers, I’m sure it can wait.

Speaking as someone who is sick of being labeled a member of the “me, me, me” generation, I’m politely asking you to consider putting down your phone and leaving behind the artificial reality it creates for a while. I promise it’s refreshing to view the world without a self-created lens. 

Oh, and iPhone commercial, before you boast about capturing more photos than any other camera, think about how boast-worthy this phrase actually is.