Take it or Leave it

In an excellent article from the fifth of June, blogger Tim Challies shared a beautiful video of a flash mob orchestra that played the Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg on the metro in Copenhagen. If you haven’t watched it, check it out.

Challies offers a few reflections on the video, taking note of the reactions of the onlookers:

A lot of them are plugged in to iPods or other devices, but as the orchestra begins to play, the headphones come off. Moments ago this was a train full of individuals lost in their own little media worlds, but in an instant it becomes a community joined together by their shared experience of this music.

I can’t say that I’ve ever been flash mobbed before (I have been in a flash mob though) and if this were to happen to me, I know that I would definitely pay attention. But the very next gut reaction of the crowd is to start filming the event, capturing it and likely uploading it onto YouTube or Facebook. What’s so remarkable about this is how very relatable it is. That’s exactly what I would have done, too. It’s a culture that didn’t exist just a decade ago, arguably created by the prevalence of video cameras, then digital point-and-shoots, then smart phones. I could also argue that the concept of a flash mob probably wouldn’t have existed either, but that’s beside the point.

Challies, sounding pretty nostalgic, comes out rather strongly against this mindset and asks where the good ol’ days are when people would simply enjoy and savor an experience rather than trying to save it for later or share it with their friends. To be fair, I agree with him for the most part, and especially since this past Monday.

I was going for a hike at sunset with my fiancée, processing through some strong emotions that we’ve had recently. The setting sun was absolutely gorgeous, and so I instinctively pulled my iPhone out and snapped a few pictures without really thinking about it. All of a sudden, it hit me that in the midst of a serious conversation between the two of us, my iPhone rudely interrupted us and tried to end the moment. Challies’ article jumped to the forefront of my mind and I completely understood what he was getting at. Our technology, while a great boon to our lives in so many ways, can be such a terrible distraction.

Yet I have a distinct qualm about assigning the moralistic gravity to it that Challies suggests. It just seems a bit like biting the hand that feeds you to watch a video that someone filmed and then turn around and condemn the concept of taking videos of events like that. I don’t know if that was his intent or not, judging by his conclusion:

We need to stop believing that everything worth experiencing is worth recording. There’s nothing wrong with taking pictures and shooting video—of course there’s not!—but in all our clicking and in all our capturing, let’s make sure that we’re not missing out on life’s best experiences.

Perhaps what we can do is be aware and cognizant of our actions and reactions, and determine what is appropriate in a certain situation. Certainly filming an event can be a great idea, and I’m glad that someone filmed the symphony on the metro. I enjoyed the experience of watching it. I’m glad that I have taken pictures of my fiancée and I over time, because we can look back on them and reminisce. I’m glad I have mementos over time of memories and occasions we’ve shared, because I bet I wouldn’t remember them all without reminders.

It’s not always appropriate to take a picture or capture the moment. Sometimes we should just let it leave without a trace. I don’t think the right question is whether capturing a moment is good or bad; a better question is when we should take it or leave it. It’s a discipline of discernment.

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