Not every picture is worth a thousand words. In fact, most pictures these days are worthless.
Every day during my lunch break, I go down to the gardens at my work to read. It should be a short walk, but it never is. I’ve never driven through LA traffic before, but I have walked through it. Every day it’s stop-and-go. Walk. Stop. Wait for someone to take a picture. Walk. Stop. Wait.
Now I understand that it’s a pretty garden, that’s why I like to read there, but people act like every leaf is some national landmark that must be documented and preserved in their phone’s memory. Nevertheless, I wait patiently and try to convince myself that they’re tourists and maybe they’ve never seen a leaf before. But I can’t wait forever.
So many people live in the gardens. Tourist or not, they capture every moment as if it’s their last. And with social media, every moment, especially the mundane, has become apt for sharing. Forget smelling the roses. They are merely the background for another self-aggrandizing selfie. This isn’t just teenagers either. Nothing is more horrifying than a mother with a camera and a Facebook.
Social media facilitates connection, but this connection is stunted by artificiality and arrogance. I don’t want to “follow” you, I want to keep up with you. Instead, I’m waiting for you to take another picture. I don’t like it, but I’ll keep waiting because I want to stay “connected.”
What astounds me is that so many people like the wait. In fact, they love it. They spend hours waiting on others. It’s a morning routine, a laxative and a bedtime story. I'm not going to lie, I watch pictures too. Like them, I spend hours looking at pictures. But not because I’m bored, but because the pictures I look at have actual stories to tell.
Even though both are pictures, there’s a difference between a film and a Snapchat “story.” Both are artificial in their own right, yet how is it that I feel less alienated from a little blue alien on screen than from my friends online. Is the difference the screen size? Production value? It certainly isn’t length. I don’t smoke but every other Snapchat story feels like a drag.
In the documentary I Am, Thom Hartmann tells of the big lie that plagues humanity. The truth is that if a man is cold, poor and tired, and another man welcomes him into his home, providing food and warmth, the man will be happy. The lie, however, is that the more things the man acquires, the happier he’ll be. This lie will lead the man to a life of material excess and artificiality.
Just because one picture is worth a thousand words doesn’t mean every picture is. The lighting may be good, but you’re still not going to break the internet. And no matter how many pictures you take, the truth is that people aren’t going to like you more than they already do (or do not).
Films speak volumes by saying less. Not every moment is captured, only those that are necessary for the story. Every shot, scene and line of dialogue is deliberate. Excessive exposition or detail and the films risks losing the audience’s attention. And although not every film is perfectly crafted, every film has a specific story to tell.
The people in gardens are all potential filmmakers. The problem is that their stories are bloated with irrelevant scenes. In On writing, Stephen King has a rule that the second draft is always the first draft minus 10 percent. In social media, it’s minus 90 percent. It’s a lot to filter through, but eventually you’ll find a story worth sharing.
Before posting the next picture, ask yourself if it’s a crucial part of your story. Did the scene in question have any real impact? A picture of you finally smiling with your braces on? Fuck Yeah. A picture of you loving yourself in those new shades you bought? Fuck off. Seriously, leave the gardens and go love yourself in private. Some of us are trying to read real stories.