Integrity in the Age of the iPhone

We love our phones. We love taking photos with our phones. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the world of iPhone photography and its associated social platforms is obnoxious, if not downright damaging to our integrity at an individual level.

For starters, the word “iPhoneography” is now a part of our lexicon, and we just have to accept that. I’m not sure who decided that the term was an admissible use of the nuance and fluidity of the English language, but for better or worse, it’s here to stay. Now, an entire culture has emerged and taken root with alarming earnestness around the pseudo-art of capturing, editing, and posting phone-based photography.

Prior to digital photography, iPhoto, or Cloud storage, people took photos for the sake of encapsulating a memory in a physical form. These prints were the only means of accessing your most valued experiences. But with the advent of iPhone photography came the rise of photo-sharing social platforms, which fundamentally altered our incentive for taking photographs in the first place.

Welcome to the culture of “likes,” where our experiences seem somehow diminished unless we share them with an audience who’s willing to validate them.

These platforms, and the dual mentality of insecurity and narcissism that they engender, teach us that the response a photo receives holds more value than its preservation of your memory.

And here’s the debate we’ve heard a thousand times over. While platforms like Instagram were founded on the principle of immediacy, the very act of photographing and sharing your present moment only serves to remove you from it.

Now, when we escape the gnashing city streets and seek a weekend’s refuge in the woods, we carry an audience with us. We rise early and labor up the mountain trail, but upon reaching the summit, how many of us choose to sit in silence, rather than capture a photo to post later on?

In 2016, what do our experiences mean to us if we do not share them with other people? I’m reminded of Christopher McCandless’ famous final reveries, which he scrawled into his copy of “Doctor Zhivago” as he approached the frontiers of death, alone in the Alaskan wilderness: “Happiness only real when shared.”

McCandless’ avowed mission to escape civilization, and his untimely death, sanctified his wanderlust and martyred him in the eyes of the generations that followed. But what he attempted to convey in his last written statement was not that one cannot be happy alone, but that witnessing beauty (or freedom, or whatever it is that you seek) in the presence of a companion can ultimately amplify the magnitude of the joy that you feel.

Whereas this genre of sharing requires presence and camaraderie, the system of virtual exploitation and appraisal that we participate in today endorses distancing ourselves from one another.

We’ve compromised that most precious and ineffably delicate awareness of the power of our own thoughts. We’ve allowed the opinions of our friends and faceless followers to contaminate our view of the present. And worst of all, we’ve lost our ability to be satisfied with being alone.

What do we stand to gain by serving our experiences up on a social platter for others to pick through? How many hours do you really want to fritter away running filters over your photos, fading shadows to various degrees of gray?

The point is not to condemn the iPhone user who enjoys taking and sharing photos of his or her experiences. I am, in my own right, the worst offender. I use social media, I cross-pollinate platforms, I even photograph my food and pets.

Rather, this to say that of the many ways in which technology enhances or complements the human experience, promoting an excessive preoccupation with what other people think about us is not one of them.

There is a need for balance in this equation. There is a need to maintain our integrity. So perhaps the next time we hear that little voice urging us to refresh the feed, we can respond by asking: Does it really matter?