Riley Walz


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.