Riley Walz


September 18, 2020

I'm on an Amtrak train going home to upstate New York. The Adirondack route is very scenic. Most of the time you're right alongside the Hudson River. I saw a deer neck-deep in the water. My first thought was to take a picture of it. The train flew by, so I didn't have enough time. I get mildly disgusted with myself when this happens. I'd rather just enjoy the moment.

A lot of this probably has to do with social norms. If I tell someone later that I saw a deer in the water, they'd probably think it was interesting. But if I show them a picture, they'd think it was much cooler, and as a result, might think I'm cool. As a write this, I realize how stupid and true this is.

Susan Sontag wrote about this phenomenon over 40 years ago, way before every person became armed with a smartphone.

Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic: Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they ­are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.