The posterity distortion device and living in the moment


Specifically to see the Tour de France I went to Paris. It was the final day of the world’s most gruelling world class sporting event.

And the thing is: I haven’t got any photos to prove it. That’s why I remember it so vividly.

I wanted to see Lance Armstong win his record seventh Tour. I wanted to see this ruthless competitor in the flesh; see if I could spot anything in his eyes as he raced round and round the Champs Elysee. I was looking for something that explained his aura, his self-belief, the invincibility; his single-minded determination to rip the legs off every other cyclist in the world.

The blood lust.

I wanted to look him in the eyes.

Alas, he was wearing sunglasses so I was foiled. More than that, it was hard to pick out any particular rider amid the blur and whirr that is the flying rainbow of the peloton.

But no matter. It was electric.

Seeing the bikes and team cars race by,

Hearing the crowd cheering,

Jostling the crowd as they scrambled to get a picture.

To get a picture.

Hold on. Everyone was taking pictures.

Which meant they weren’t there. They weren’t in the present. In fact they were living in their anticipation of not being there but of being in the future. They were saving the moment for posterity by sacrificing the moment when they actually were there.

Merde. What madness?! What an extraordinary shame. Because they were standing within metres of one of the world’s greatest athletes as he smashed a world record and yet at the instant that the noise rose, the atmosphere fizzed and He flew by they slammed a device between their line of sight and The Man.

I put down my cognac. This was crazy. Thousands were blocking their gaze with their posterity capturing/time-shifting devices. Cameras.

Put it another way; they chose not to live in the moment but to be a hostage to  the future. They took a picture of what they would have seen if they were looking. This meant they could demonstrate to themselves or friends that they were there and “while I was looking at my camera this is what the camera was pointed at”.

Not only does this diminish their pleasure. But as I discuss in the book Stop Talking, Start Doing – experiences are better than things. Not only does an experience make you measurably happier after the event than you feel about things, but others like people more who talk about their experience more than their things.

Photographs help you remember great experiences. Who would argue with that. But professionals are paid to take photographs of these events. For a job. And they do it so that everyone else can relive the moment as if they were there.

But it isn’t an equivalent to being there. And yet it’s become that..

3.5 trillion photos have been taken since the invention of the camera according to some fancy guesswork by a company called 1000memories. Ten per cent of those were taken in the 12 months since September last year!

A large chunk of these go to facebook. 750m photos were uploaded to Facebook over the 2010-11 New Year weekend. 1000memories etimates that 140bn photos are on Facebook and on an average day 200m photos are uploaded daily.

Contemplating the amount of human years – of life – spent taking, uploading and staring at pictures sends me  reaching for the cognac I put down in Paris.

Thank God for simple things like sport. In five weeks time someone will win the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. I guess that Eden Park in Auckland probably holds about 40,000 people.

Millions will be watching on tv or online. But nothing beats being there in the flesh.

If you’re there when the winning points are scored. Be there. Live the moment. remember the moment you were there – not the moment you took a picture.