through the looking glass.

Seattle Times columnist Ron Judd has looked at his fellow Americans and seen they all seem to be looking at something else through something else. Of Tuesday’s inauguration, he notes:

Sadly, the thing that will stick with some of us about it was not the stirring words, the historical import, or the celebration of democracy. It was the virtual seas of people standing, witnessing history, and viewing the entire unfathomably huge event through a video screen the size of an open pack of matches.

Two things about the crowd distinguished this inauguration as I watched: 1) never have I seen so many smiling faces at such an event, and 2) never have I seen so many smiling faces hidden behind a camera or cellphone. Judd’s piece touches on those who tramp off into nature and spend all their time photographing and filming what they see. Instead of stopping to smell the roses, people are now cropping to sell the roses. He says that if you must take a picture of a beautiful scene, do so. But …

… then try something radical. Just stand there. Feel the spray settling on your face. Look around you and watch how the sun lights it up in a rainbow arch. Take in a few deep lungsful of that sweet, alpine air. Taste it. Feel it. Close your eyes and let your ears record the river’s thunderous retort to the constraints of gravity. Hold still for a moment and, when you’re ready, tell yourself quietly: Remember this. Never forget. Brand this moment on my soul.

As I watch people around me so often photographing themselves in the most mundane moments, I wonder if we’ve become a nation of voyeurs more than doers. Do we feel compelled to document things — like The Most Photographed Barn in America in Don DeLillo’s White Noise — instead of engaging ourselves in actually experiencing things?

I bring this up as I take a road trip to Pittsburgh later today, with the Oswego women’s hockey team playing two games vs. Chatham University this weekend. When I traveled with them to Boston last year, I kept a journal with pictures later published in the alumni online newsletter. This time I’ll take photos and blog, but I also plan to step back from the camera and enjoy a city in the midst of Super Bowl™ fever. The company of two dozen outstanding young student-athletes. And some exciting hockey. Real life seen through eyes, not filtered the digital looking glass.

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