Living an unfiltered life is becoming increasingly rare — and we are as much at fault as technology.
Photographs are among the most powerful tools for documenting human existence. With a high-quality camera at nearly everyone’s fingertips today, we are documenting life like never before.
According to the Atlantic magazine in 2015, humans take more photos every two minutes than existed in total 150 years ago. We are collectively creating visual essays for future generations to look back upon when trying to understand the social experiences of our time.
When we try to envision what life might have looked like in 1900, we tend to be drawn to similar compositions — generally black and white or the gold-toned sepia images. Stiff, stoic, and unsmiling. Each deliberative and lacking emotion. While the color, or lack of colors, make the images haunting, they also paint the pictures we accept to define a period.
Photographs of my childhood are predictable. Images were intentional — a photo of the family gathered for Christmas or somebody holding up a fish by a lake. But the photos were taken to document the unvarnished and significant moments in time. The collective volume was random, unpredictable and authentic.
But in today’s world we are all brand managers — a commercial term of carefully crafting a public image designed to lead the receiver to an intentional destination. And in that quest, authenticity is traded in exchange for blurred or filtered vision.
Today we are all amateur brand managers. Armed with powerful social media tools, the sharing of photos is as easy as pushing a button. So easy in fact, we increasingly filter life through a lens of how to promote our brand instead of documenting life.
Living an unfiltered life is becoming increasingly rare. Authenticity, the powerful ingredient that helps others to unravel the story of life, is now sacrificed with our self-serving selections designed to generate responses from a target audience.
In some ways, we are becoming much like a box of cereal on the grocery store shelf.
Even I am guilty of this amateur branding. If a hundred years from now someone were to look back over the digital scraps of my digital feeds, they would think all I do is ride bikes, write stories and visit small towns.
But the unfiltered me is someone less interesting. I work, I come home and eat dinner, and I pull weeds in front yard. My brand management, however, is a highlight reel — one based on what I see inside my head, not the mirror.
Where will this lead us down the road? Where will our increasingly self-centered and self-selected content take us? Will we find our way home or are we now forever unchained from reality? Are we no more authentic than the advertising slogan begging us to pick a cereal box from the shelf?
An authentic life is one lived with weeds and all — a life where honesty is valued and accepted. What I hope is the unfiltered life is not forever lost to the digital dust of history.