Monday, January 27, 2014

The sense of snapshots (2)


David Riesman distinguished three types of man in history, depending on what guided the behaviour: the tradition-directed man, the inner-directed man and the other-directed man (see my blog dated April 29, 2013). His theory sounds plausible, but is it true? I haven’t heard of any investigation that has tested it, but maybe that is my fault, and maybe the theory has been tested. Anyway, after the Middle Ages (characterised by tradition-directness) there were many outstanding people that rowed against the main current of the accepted traditional opinions of the time. Galileo (who has been condemned for it), Descartes (who found it better to leave France for that reason, and later even the liberal Netherlands), Spinoza (who changed Amsterdam for The Hague in order to escape persecution for his beliefs) are some of the most outstanding inner-directed persons then. But what does a few names tell us? Are they really symptomatic for a changing way of orientation or were other factors involved that had nothing to do with man’s individual bearing? What speaks against the former is that by nature man is continuously looking for acceptance by others, especially by those other people who are significant for him or her. People want to be liked and loved and to belong and that makes that they avoid things that make look them deviant. This goes as far as that one does or says things against one’s better judgment or that one tends to conform one’s behaviour thinking that it is one’s own choice. And isn’t this of all time? Mobs cannot not exist without such an orientation on others and haven’t there been mobs as long as there is history?
Nowadays people want to be trendy, follow the fashion of the day, or youngsters choose a study like sociology or psychology because everybody does and because they don’t know what to do else. Okay, it often happens that people know that they do things because others do the same and they say “one ought to do that” or “it’s fashion”, but on the other hand it also happens that one thinks making an individual choice (“it’s my choice to study psychology”) while the actual reason is that studying psychology is trendy. Or take this: You are in a restaurant and you see flames coming from the kitchen. What will you do? Probably nothing when nobody else does anything (and when no one comes from the kitchen warning the guests that there is a fire). Until, too late, somebody shouts “fire” and panic breaks out. Why? Because we are conforming beings, at least most of us. If we were a little bit more individualistic, some big calamities and devastating wars in history could have been avoided. But alas, that’s just man’s nature, and maybe it has some advantages from the perspective of human development.
I think that with this in mind the snappy kind of photography that I discussed in my last blog can be understood. Remember that I was talking there about taking pictures, for instance in a museum, in order to be able to show that you have been “there” and not as a kind of reminder for yourself. Seen that way, snappy photography has nothing to do with photography in the classical sense. Let it be clear: I have nothing against snappy photography! Images are important today for many reasons and snappy photography is one way of making them. But the meaning of a snappy photo has no relation with what is on it. It is a way of expressing your belongingness, it helps you to be liked and loved. You make them because everybody does, so you “ought” to do it, too. It is one of the present ways of contact, like letters in the past, or like going to a cafe with your friends. And that’s why they are twittered and instagramed and facebooked. Photography makes the world go round. Would Daguerre have thought it?

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