The ability to be an Internet influencer lies at every smartphone owner’s fingertips. With a camera and a multitude of social media sites stored in a handheld device, content can be generated in a matter of seconds.
Whenever we see oddities in our everyday life — a unicycle-rider on campus, ridiculously cute dogs, an exceptionally exotic outfit — our immediate inclination is to take out our phones to post for friends to see, too.
It is a beautiful thing that technology allows us to share a moment with those who weren’t present, but sometimes we can abuse that power.
There are two main issues with over-posting: losing the genuineness of moments and dehumanizing entertaining subjects.
Intimate moments — such as surprising a loved one with a sentimental present or an unexpected reunion — are often taped, posted and shared until they go viral.
This wholesome content is refreshing to find on social media feeds, which can usually be cluttered with bad news or offensive political takes. It is heart-warming to see grand gestures unfold: the buildup, reaction and the sweet moments following.
However enjoyable these videos are for their audiences, they come at a cost for the people featured in them. While these are sweet moments to have documented, something sacred is lost when it is shared beyond the people in the relationship. Some moments should stay between two people.
Sometimes recorded gestures can feel as though they are performed more for the approval and reactions of the Internet community than the individual person they have a relationship with.
Certain moments even feel manufactured for the footage.
The most common occurrence is seen during birthdays when the person of honor is sitting in front of their cake, being serenaded by their friends and family. What used to be a sweet moment, the birthday girl or boy’s face glowing by candlelight, is now footage with cameras on flash pointed at every angle. The people singing “Happy Birthday” aren’t even looking at the person they’re singing to; they’re staring at their phones. And the moment that follows as the candles are blown out is saturated with guests occupied with the editing, caption and stickers for their post.
Having a room full of people each transfixed on their own device is isolating. People seeing the posts see a happy gathering, and surely it is, but the quality of the moment is plagued by a preoccupation with people working to ensure their followers know that it was indeed a happy gathering.
In addition to being isolating and distracting, recording moments can also induce superficiality.
If people are aware of a phone camera pointed toward them, they tend to become more conscious of the recording than the moment itself. Reactions and behavior becomes tailored to the audience suspected to be on the other side of the screen. It is less organic and genuine.
Some moments caught on camera are organic and genuine — when the subjects are unsuspecting and unaware.
When we come across people in public doing something we deem notable, our knee-jerk reaction is to take a picture or video. There is a large range of subjects the Internet community finds deserving of documentation: from attractive men reading in public (an Instagram that has a following of 1.1 million) to a couple showing cringey displays of affection.
The issue with taking photos or videos of these people is that they never consented to being photographed.
As commonplace as it is, there is something that feels undeniably wrong with taking pictures of someone you don’t know. It is why you use subversive means to get the picture — whether that means moving your camera slowly, holding it at an angle, hiding it behind some other item. These sneaky practices go to show that we know we should not be photographing or recording strangers, yet we do it anyway.
It is unlikely that people record strangers to be malicious. The practice has developed out of an Internet culture that seeks to entertain and be entertained in the midst of our mundane lives.
Having moments documented is valuable as a record of itself. It keeps memories alive.
But when our focus shifts more to the prospect of social media engagement than the moment itself, we lose the existence of anything worth documenting at all.