The Youth Ball Welcomes Obama with a Sea of Digital Cameras

This photo basically sums up contemporary American society, no? Be it the Youth Ball on Inauguration Day or a Radiohead concert, everyone wants their own unique shot. Is this obsessive documentation worth it?

This is definitely something I've noticed a lot of lately: people are more interested in taking photos of something they're witnessing than actually, you know, witnessing it. These people are all looking at LCD screens instead of the new Presidential couple standing in front of them. Sure, they'll be able to post the photo to their Facebook accounts, but they'll (obviously) be able to find 100 identical or better photos of the same thing on Flickr when they get home. Is it more important to take a unique photo to prove you were there or to exist in that moment fully as to remember it better?

I certainly wasn't at the Youth Ball yesterday, but this phenomenon happened when I saw Radiohead last summer. During the first few songs I could barely see the band due to almost everybody holding up digital cameras (and I was relatively close, too). These people weren't really paying attention to the show; they were trying to get their shots or keep their shitty video steady. And with pro photographers in the pit up front and hundreds of other people doing the exact same thing, there was just no point. Thankfully, people started putting their cameras away after not too long, but it seriously marred the experience of those first songs.

And in the end, what will help you remember an experience better: taking a not-great picture that's 80% crowd, or giving that experience 100% of your attention? You can always find photos online later, but you'll never be able to go back to that moment again and, well, pay attention to it. [Kate Heffernan]