catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 12 :: 2011.06.24 — 2011.07.07



It’s become cliché to say that we live in a time when we are more connected than ever, and at the same time more disconnected than ever. There is no question that social media can quickly feed, if not breed, narcissism in just about anyone who joins the masses who are posting, tweeting, liking and commenting their days away. So when some friends exposed me to the world of Instagram, a photo sharing social networking platform, I was excited and my wife, Kate, was less so. In her mind, it was yet another thing to check, another connection to all the people in this world who aren’t in the same room as I am, another Siren call from my iPhone.

As it turns out, Instagram is exactly what we both thought it would be.

On the one hand, it is one more thing to do. It is a world where people are sharing things with others (in this case, pictures) and receiving the adrenalin hit of having those things celebrated through “likes” and comments. At its worst, Instagram is just another way to brag to your friends about how good your concert seats are or how many cool places you get to travel to. (Pictures out the window of airplanes are plentiful on Instagram.) But there is something else going on with Instagram users that is wonderful and, I’ll go so far as to say, deeply significant.

For the regular posters on Instagram, a discipline of seeing is taking place. While most people move through their days with tunnel vision for the next place they need to be, many of the people I follow on Instagram have their eyes open and radars turned on high for the beauty they are swimming in at all times. A piece of paper, a basketball hoop, a boy standing in a dugout, the color of a road sign, an abandoned building — these simple moments and displays of beauty are captured and shared instantly with others.

I first felt this discipline grow in me while I was waiting for a bus. I had just started to play with posting pictures earlier that week, so when I found myself with a few minutes to kill, the thought came to me to take and post a picture. This thought then caused me to look at my surroundings in a new way — where is something beautiful in this concrete and metal world? It’s then that I noticed the graffiti written on the glass wall of the bus stop shelter. The light was hitting it just right. The black letters scribed in marker appeared to hang in space when I framed the shot. I snapped it and hit “post.” Rather than checking my email on my phone or burying my face in a book, Instagram encouraged me to look around.

I realize now that the commitment to share is developing something in me. It pushes me to look and to see. While the addition of one more social outlet on my phone threatens to make me less present with the people right next to me, it is also teaching me to be aware of and alert to my surroundings in a profound and meaningful way.

As I flip through the picture feed that flows mostly from my friends’ phones, I see them seeing. They teach me to look again and see that the street lights that line the roads I drive are glorious in their own way, and that the lines of the ceiling tiles — of all those blah drop ceilings that most people spend eight hours a day under — are actually stunning when framed in the right way. They show me that some people see and some do not. These photograbbers see because they are committed to looking. They are committed to looking because they know they will see.

I want to be one of the people who have eyes that see.

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