Monday, February 20, 2012

Breaking a Twitter Addiction

According to British media researcher Ofcomm, 60 percent of teenagers describe themselves as "highly addicted" to their mobile device. Facebook and Twitter are among the most commonly visited places via mobile devices. At the Ragan Communications Conference this past week, speaker Chris Brogan said he wanted to buy the space on the floor between the restaurant's tables and bathrooms. Why? Because when we go in and come out, we are staring down at our phones/Blackberrys -- making the floor beneath your feet, more within your range of view than the pictures on the walls.

Some of my friends are addicted to their digital cameras the way these kids in the UK are addicted to their mobile devices. I was a wedding photographer for several years, and am an avid lover of professional photography. When I brought my camera to an event to photograph it, even when I was on my honeymoon traveling through a rainforest, I struggled with remembering to be in the moment - not just photograph it. As we walked past the tropic flowers, I never took my eye out of the viewfinder. I wanted to know what each angle would look like through my 55mm lens. I did the same thing at several weddings - even a gorgeous outdoor wedding that took place at a beachside golf course.

I got some excellent photographs from these events, but when I think back about them, I don't remember everything. I spent more time and concentration on looking through the viewfinder than I did on inhaling the moment in its entirety. I really failed to be "in the moment." I could have realistically done both: taken great photos and been fully in the moment. But the device constantly fights for my attention. I didn't want to miss a single thing during the these events and the irony is that I think I missed the big picture.

The truth is that my brain needed time to soak in my surroundings and use all five senses (well, six if you include my gut) to process what was going on around me. Giving myself a few moments to enjoy and analyze allows me to contribute more thought to my pictures. And now that I'm very active on Twitter, I'm trying to apply the same pause-first thinking there too (it's hard!). Rather than just pointing and shooting, I think first. I take a few moments to think about what I want in my frame and what I what to document for the long-term, which is the opposite of how most people treat Twitter. Its format is more conducive to capturing quick, type without thinking, posts.

I would argue that each Tweet builds or destroys a skill the same way each photograph strengthens or weakens my portfolio. This is why, during important events, you will not find me staring down at my iPhone. I know when to pay attention to the moment I am in and when to document it. Maybe these teenagers will eventually realize the importance of learning the difference.