Our Wonderful(?) Life In Pictures

20140809_023I’ve always had an admiration for Bill Watterson and the often true-to-life hijinks captured in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. One such comic (September 17, 1992) features an attempt by Calvin to teach his stuffed tiger how perspective affects other people’s thoughts. In this case, he begins discussing photography and pictures: “[People] think the camera is a dispassionate machine that records only facts. But really, cameras lie all the time! Select the facts and you manipulate the truth!” As evidence of this, Calvin suggests that Hobbes take a picture of him sitting on his bed. However, he’s manipulated the situation so that half the bed is cleared off but the other half isn’t. All Hobbes has to do, after taking the photo, is to crop out the mess to make it look like he keeps things neat.

Hobbes’ reply is wonderful: “Is this even legal?”

In earlier times, people captured their memories using Polaroid film that reeked of chemical soup yet produced photos that only took a few minutes to develop. Others went for the regular camera setup that used flashcubes (remember those?) and took better photos that took a week or so to acquire from the local drugstore. Eventually, people moved on to 35mm cameras with built-in flashes, drop-in canisters, and developing times as low as an hour. Digital cameras were next, but were bulky at first, cumbersome to operate, and sometimes difficult to retrieve files from. With Apple’s invention of the iPhone, the digital revolution allowed any and everyone with a decent cell phone to take photos and email them to whoever they chose. And as technology got better, the ability to send via text message and/or upload to a social media site made taking and sharing memories as simple as tapping the phone a few times (or with the advent of applications such as IFTTT, doing absolutely nothing).

Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest allow people to show off their lives as a sort of virtual life album. Each picture a person posts represents a snapshot that, when viewed in relation to the totality of photos, reveals a person’s history from their perspective. Words cannot adequately do this (I’m still waiting for the first totally pictorial autobiography to be released). The Bible even speaks of this to a limited effect, when Jeremiah writes, “Set up for yourself roadmarks, place for yourself guideposts; direct your mind to the highway, the way by which you went” (31:21 NASB). Photos are our guideposts to a life we’ve already lived and are currently living out.

With this ability to create roadmarks, however, there is an inherent danger. Just as Calvin astutely noted, we have the ability to ‘manipulate the facts’ in our photos (and therefore histories), making ourselves to be better than we perhaps are. We have the ability to create a sanitized version of life that correlates to what we envision it to be. For example, if the kids are playing in a baseball game, but the photo shows two kids having an argument off to the side, there’s a story to be told. But a different story can be told by cropping out the offending players, leaving a clean photo of a base hit or slide into home plate.

I admit that I’m guilty of this.

I love the ability, with the photos I upload, to be able to control the narrative of my life and show folks that life is grand all the time (and honestly, who wouldn’t?). Of course, that’s not always the case. You don’t see me, for example, posting pics of myself stressing out in a Starbucks over a deadline for an article. You don’t see reaction selfies of me the second I’m cut off by a driver. You don’t see a photo of me struggling to get the kids in bed when they’re so tired they can nothing else but talk and sing in order to stay awake. What you would realize is that, for all the shots of the kids winning awards, playing Frisbee at the park, and me with various celebrities (always with the fedora), there could be photos of me at my not-so-best.

It’s probably not advantageous to post these not-so-perfect pics, so we avoid it out of an attempt to make ourselves look better than perhaps we truly are. In essence, it becomes a form of vanity that runs counter to the ways of God. The goal is to remember that it’s okay to be ourselves, but not make ourselves to be more than we are. Otherwise, we risk being humbled at some point when the perfect life of photos we’ve carefully created crumbles like a house of cards, exposing us for who we truly are. Jesus said it this way: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11 NASB).

Perhaps we need to consider the effects our pictures can have on others’ views of who we are and be a little bit more real. I hope to be a little more down-to-earth in the upcoming days and months, showing unscripted glimpses of life. That way, when my kids and grandkids take a look at my life in pictures, they’ll see who I really am, not an embellished, lofty version of who I’d like them to see me as. The end result will be worth it.