Stamatakis: Please stop taking pictures of fireworks

By Nick Stamatakis

Scene: a country music concert in downtown Nashville, Tenn. The crowd is a good mix of die-hard…Scene: a country music concert in downtown Nashville, Tenn. The crowd is a good mix of die-hard country fans and more casual onlookers, like myself. A famous singer gets on the stage.

With the sky now partially dark, thousands of iPhone screens pop up and hover over the crowd. As the night grows darker, the lights are morphed from individual rectangles to resemble  a net of Christmas lights entrapping the audience.

Of course, iPhone photography isn’t just a Nashville thing. Kenny Chesney at Heinz Field was the same way. Same with the Dave Matthews Band — or at least I’m guessing it was.

Even less famous and notable events get some level of amateur iPhone photography. At both the Erie County Fourth of July fireworks display and the Boyz II Men Fan Jam at PNC Park in June, I saw the same thing: people photographing blurry, distant things happening too far away to look halfway decent on a camera phone.

Call me crazy, but do we really need to take this many pictures?

I can’t quite figure out why spectators everywhere feel so obligated to capture such scenes. These aren’t pictures of friends at the concert. This isn’t one or two still photos of the stage. Instead, these are hours of fuzzy footage of fireworks and indecipherable noises that we are documenting just for the sake of documenting.

The numbers showcasing our love of video and photography are absolutely staggering. In half a minute — roughly the amount of time it took you to read to this point within this article — 30 hours of video have been uploaded to YouTube, according to a statement by Google. A month of YouTube uploads contains more video than the entirety of 60 years of Big Three broadcast television.

I don’t imagine people actually watch these things. When it goes out into great cyberspace, most people don’t: Roughly a third of all YouTube videos have fewer than 100 views, according to Watchmojo.com, an online video production company.

But it isn’t much better when this stuff stays on our phones or Facebook accounts. Does anybody get gooey-eyed and sentimental looking at a picture of the Erie County Fourth of July fireworks show? Or at a more spectacular show in New York or Washington?

Maybe it is the social element of these events that we want to capture. We want to Facebook and Instagram all this fun stuff we do and broadcast it to the world (incidentally, if I ever see anybody Instagram-ing a firework, there will be a world of pain).

But even here, the marginal benefit from posting hundreds of blurry pictures is not that great. Maybe we get a few extra shots of dopamine from gleefully spending hours telling the world about how awesome our lives are, but overall, you are not impressing anybody or even genuinely expressing more of the experience to your social network by holding your iPhone in the air for 30 minutes.

In other words, we take all these pictures for almost no obvious reason. We are all just capturing these leisure events for posterity’s sake, even if we know full well that, after a point, nobody will care — including us.

This is a key insight regarding this endless documentation. We increasingly can’t enjoy our leisure time without making it somehow about something more than just enjoying our leisure time.

Everything else in our lives, after all, unilaterally exists to create some benefit in the future. We go to school to improve our chances at a good job. We go to work to improve our financial condition and improve our chances at living comfortably. We date for sex and emotional connections. We pray to increase our chances of reaching salvation.

Thus, when we inevitably reach the times in our life that ostensibly represent the payoff, we find ourselves lost. The moments that we should be enjoying, the fruit of the years of schooling, work and relationship building, are incomprehensible. Faced with just experiencing a moment, we reach for our iPhones and make even these moments a purposeful activity to create an awesome historical record for our mental bucket lists.

That is to say, everything must be a means to some end. Even our fun, carefree times when, encroached with photography equipment, become nothing more than pleasure we methodologically catalog and anthologize.

So as the school year begins, here’s one piece of advice to help combat this: put down the camera. Take photojournalist Nick Danziger’s idea and take only one picture a day.

Doing so can help take some of the purpose-orientation out of your life — something that we could all use. Your goal in college isn’t to have as many experiences as possible. The goal isn’t to look back someday and remember each of the 1,432 crazy things you did. Such a target turns your college experience into a means to an end.

The secret is realizing that the means is the end.

Email Nick all your fuzzy fireworks photos at [email protected]