So what happened was a collision between Jonathan Haidt, Instagram and Blade Runner. It sounds like the sort of thing the kids used to ask – “Batman versus Spider Man: who wins?”.
I had read Righteous Minds and the ideas had been slowly percolating through what remains of my cognition. Then I was listening to some people talking about the burden of feeding the Instagram beast and how our trivial daily pictures had come to frame and define our lives. Which led to the importance placed on pictures in Blade Runner as hoped-for proof that a memory was real.
From Jonathan Haidt I had taken the ideas of how the stories we tell and share encode a culture or group or religion. We are the stories we tell about ourselves. And in his model of the elephant and rider (read it and see), the rider makes up stories to explain the elephant’s behavior.
Then there is Instagram, which is standing-in for all social media in my argument, becoming the journal or diary of our lives. It feels almost as if experiences don’t exist unless they are shared. I was listening to someone talking about the ubiquity of mobile phones with cameras and how the blizzard of images has become the measure of people’s lives. It is the end point of the democratisation of photography – it is no longer a technical specialist confined to the priesthood but is available to all. So photography is then used for it’s primary purpose – to capture what will become memories.
You may remember the scene in Blade Runner where Rachael is talking to Deckard about her memories and whether she can play the piano or only remember that she can. Deckard’s piano has old photographs on it, hinting that he too is a Replicant. And the baddies are found from the photographs they took. Photographs are the physical manifestation of memories, especially when memory itself can’t be trusted.
Back in 2016 I had a motorcycle crash. It was serious, in the sense that it could have been life changing, but I was very lucky. My memories of the events were mixed. I had great clarity of some actions and the sequence, but some parts happened so fast that they were just a loud noise. (Incidentally, what saved me from greater harm was training – I took an action that had been drilled into me that was counter-intuitive but life saving. If you are going to ride a bike, get some training too.) There was a lot to process, not least what could have happened. I did this by writing about it. It laid the ghost. I’ve been honest about whose fault this was (entirely mine), why it happened and what I did right. The only pictures I have were taken after the event but they are now the placeholder for my memories.
So where am I going with this? Towards the idea that the great majority of photography serves people as memory. We can talk all we like about art but pictures are stories in shorthand. So perhaps we should should let everyone get on with saving and sharing their memories and not be critical. If we want to take photographs for art’s sake we can be free from the Instagram treadmill: why throw art at the family album? And then we are also free to save our memories without worrying about art or style or any form of pretention.