The advent of widely-available mobile cameras has been one of the most significant phenomena to impact the youth of the world in recent decades. Since the invention of the camera in the early 19th century, the improvements made to this technology have been incredible in their speed and scope, resulting in the technological climate we find ourselves in today. Almost everyone has a high-powered camera in their pockets, readily available whenever needed. This has had huge psychological and lifestyle impacts on everyone, particularly the modern youth whose lives revolve around smartphones.
The metaphysical outlooks and psychology of the youth of today have been significantly, and possibly irreversibly, altered as a result of this phenomenon. The very way we interact with reality and with our own lives has undergone a huge change in recent years. Primarily, this change has come about as a result of image-sharing through monolithic social media platforms. The fact that we are all faced with constant presentations of human life, of the experiences of those around us, has meant that experience itself has become consumable; human life has become an aesthetic commodity. The essence of a beautiful sunset, a fantastic view, a delicious meal or an incredible experience, no longer lies in the experience itself or in the mind of the individual, it lies in the presentation of these experiences as a consumable thing. The vibrant tenets of human life have been reduced to superficiality, to shareability.
The very presence of the camera, and everything its presence implies, totally alters the experience which it captures. This is why it is impossible to avoid the mild sense of discomfort one experiences when watching a YouTube vlogger go about their daily life; the presence of the camera, its intrusive stare, reduces all the vlogger does to superficiality and robs their experience of any real meaning beyond aesthetic or entertainment value. Jean Baudrillard noted this phenomenon in regards to reality television in The Procession of Simulacra: “because heavenly fire no longer falls on the corrupted cities, it is the camera lens that, like a laser, comes to pierce lived reality in order to put it to death.”
As a result, what is subtly perceptible in much of the youth today is the slight detachment between the individual and the experience. When our experiences are constantly being captured, shared, and consumed, it is unavoidable that we no longer engage with them in the same way. We have ceased to really live our lives in the traditional sense; we have become disconnected from our lives, disconnected from our experiences. We no longer purely experience what we do, never basking in the thing itself, taking a step back and capturing what is before us to be looked back on later or shared in the moment. The destructive gaze of the camera lens has caused us to look upon our lives as someone looks upon a photo collage; we cease to truly engage with what we experience in a sincere way, reducing all to a distant superficiality.
So next time you find yourself facing a beautiful view or a lovely meal, resist the urge to dive into your pocket for your phone. Enjoy the moment, truly experience it, feel that sense of fundamental content unique to real experience, never found in a photograph or video. In the words of the great Ferris Bueller, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might just miss it.”
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