On ‘Quantifying’ Experience

by kangcuzzi

In an era of omnipresent technology, mankind’s newest challenge is to find a balance between appreciating a world with and without the existence of gadgetry. Never has this been more obvious than in the case of the 21st century tourist, whose typical outfit is never complete without the camera and/or the phone. As he or she jets off on an adventure, mainstream society’s newest edict on travel – to capture any and all experiences and to bring them back – is always one of his or her foremost priorities. After all, if one takes the effort to go somewhere, at least they’ve got to be able to prove they’ve been there… right?

Right. And this is where the 21st century traveler is going wrong.

When a tourist spends an entire day behind a camera lens, what they’re doing is quantifying the experience. To many, the existence of an experience only increases along with the number of ‘click’ sounds their gadgets make. How do I get the perfect shot? Do I need one more? So and so forth, the ‘clicks’ increase as the seconds go by. Sure, they do take some time to step back – sans the camera – and admire whatever it is that interests them. But the overwhelming condition of the tourist’s mind soon nags them to capture the experience and keep it somehow.

The want to remember is a beautiful desire. It retains memories and emotions for the times you need them most. But the era in which we live has made it progressively more difficult to remember in the way that we should be remembering things. When you see something of incomparable beauty, you’ve found something of infinite value. If it sparks poetry, art, music, it creates something that transcends time and simultaneously celebrates the human spirit; after all, no two people will see the same thing and whip up an identical poem, image or song.

But the thing about using technology to do the processing for you (note: I’m not talking about artistic photography, which I’ll talk about later) removes the bond you can create with the thing that inspires you. All you need to do is click the camera button, and the gears and wires will filter things in such a way to reflect how the camera sees things. The worst part is when this fills you with a feeling of complacency, that you’ve done what you had to do… when really, you haven’t done much at all.

Another problem with trying to quantify an experience in this sense is that you’ll never fully capture the entirety of it. A camera frame can hold so much. How about the breeze, the angle of the sun, the soft chatter, the visceral reaction you hold inside? All those are equally integral in creating an experience, and it is a shame to discount them for the sake of simply capturing something to show, and to prove.

Here’s what I think. The next time you see something of wonder, hold the camera — and hold your thoughts about using that camera. Take a moment to let all of it sink in. Think of how you’re feeling. Think, if you’re artistically inclined, about how you can contribute to the beauty of what you see. If you’re inclined in other ways, think of your personal metric of beauty, of attaining beauty, and try to apply it accordingly.

Then, if you must, take a photograph. It’s a human urge made even more irresistible by the existence of the tool. And that’s fine. But if you want to make your photographic ventures much more meaningful, actually pursuing the art of photography would be a great idea. Of being able to use the camera not only to ‘quantify’ an experience but to add quality to it. To understand how time and space marry to create a holistic experience in one single shot… of a thousand words, or even more.

Even better, getting into the habit of taking photographs of the everyday – the things you see around your home, your neighbourhood, your city – will prime you into becoming the true traveler, many steps further from the typical tourist. When you can capture familiarity and beauty in the most banal, you start to see the little details and the importance of these details. Applying this to any scene is incredibly humbling. Seeing a work of art as ‘familiar’ puts you in touch with what kind of beauty strikes you at the core. It adds a sentimentality and a meaning to your work that you wouldn’t have considered before.

I, myself, am not at all a photography connoisseur — although I’d love to be. I don’t think I’m at the stage to pursue it yet (I’m sticking to poetry for now, and beginning to dabble in sketching) but one day I aim to do so. To capture and cherish, not quantify, an experience is one of the most useful and wonderful tools you can harness as you live in this exhilarating world. It’s a way of giving back, almost, to the beauty the world shows you.

And there’s nothing more worthwhile than changing the way we perceive the generosity of this world. 🙂