Capturing Life’s Moments


Several days ago I came across this commercial by HTC. It featured a photography student trying to capture someone freefalling during skydiving using the new HTC 1. As an owner of an HTC phone myself, I loved this ad. Earlier this week, I then stumbled upon this article by HBR on capturing life’s moments. The article argues we’re obsessed with capturing, rather than savoring, moments. Social media has encouraged this behavior even more.

Social media has certainly influenced my desire to capture more of life’s moments. I’ve always had a desire to travel to new places, experience new cultures, and interact with local people. I think this urge stems in large part from growing up in one of the world’s most isolated places: Hawaii. I love the fact that I was born and raised in what many call a land of paradise, but my aptitude for geography at a very young age made me yearn to leave and visit the places that I’d read about for so long.

Over the past decade, I’ve visited many places that I would’ve never dreamt of experiencing as a kid. In the eighth grade, I placed in a competition that enabled me to go to Washington DC. For most people from Hawaii, traveling to the East Coast is often a once in a lifetime experience. At the time, it was certainly the case for me. (I never thought that a decade later, I’d be living in this city.) I don’t remember taking many pictures during the trip, but I vividly recall the experiences I had at the time:

  • Riding the metro, my first subway experience, ever.
  • Seeing so much green everywhere while flying into BWI. I’d never seen so many trees in my life!
  • Touring around The Mall. It was definitely an eye-opening experience to visit monuments that I had only read about or seen on TV.

I had a similar mindset when I won a scholarship to spend a summer in Japan. I remember:

  • Visiting the Eternal Flame Memorial at the Nagasaki Peace Park
  • Bathing at an onsen (hot springs) in Hakone
  • Jogging along the Yokohama waterfront around Yamashita Park.

The list of memories goes on.  The point is though, at the time, I never really bothered capturing these moments on film. I just wanted to soak it all in.

As I reflect on my more recent experiences, I can’t help but to think that while I tried my best to savor every new experience, I also had a strong urge to capture every moment: the aspects of daily life, the surrounding landscape, the people, the nightlife, etc. I wasn’t the only one though. Whether abroad or in the States, wherever I went, it seemed like everywhere, everyone was taking a picture of everything; e.g., what they saw, what they ate, what they did, etc. My actions during the new year countdown at Taipei 101 most demonstrably captures the shift in my attitude towards capturing versus experiencing life’s moments.

When the countdown began, I remember seeing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of arms being raised, cameras grasped, in order to capture the fireworks show. The show must’ve lasted for only five minutes. Even though the event took place only five months ago, experiencing the awesomeness of the whole event isn’t the first thing that I most vividly recall. What comes to mind is what I just described – the masses intent on capturing the moment, hoping to get a great shot.

In retrospect, I’m glad I captured the event. It’s quite likely I’ll never experience it ever again. Even with my earlier memories of DC and Japan, I wish I had photos available that accompanied my memory of those events. It’d be nice to have a collection of photos to revisit those experiences. I’ve realized though that there’s a tipping point that exists in capturing life’s moments. Capture too few and your left with nothing but the memory of the moment. Capture too many and the memory may be tainted by the desire to capture, not savor, the moment.

I believe that life’s moments should be savored, not captured. Learning how to balance the two, especially in this world of always-on social media, is an ongoing challenge that I’m working to find. Everything in moderation, including capturing moments, I suppose.

Social Media and Digital Communication


Over the past couple of weeks, several articles have been published regarding social media’s role, specifically Facebook, in modern society. NYT did a great article on how technology has enabled us to sacrifice conversation for mere connection.  The Atlantic came out with a fantastic article on increased loneliness despite increased connectivity.  With Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and dozens of other social media websites, it’s pretty effortless to maintain dialogue between those already in our life, or to initiate conversations, albeit virtually, with those we’ve just met in real life, if at all. Not to forget the other forms of communication: skyping, texting, emailing, instant messaging, and of course communicating face-to-face.

Why then, given all these tools within our communication arsenal, do we feel lonelier then ever? The article raises a number of points, two of which really resonated with me: controlled distance and self-editing.

It’s hard to imagine life without digital communication. I remember when the only form of communication for the masses was through face-to-face interaction or a landline telephone. Back then, when someone wanted to talk to you, that interaction was instantaneous. No delayed response. Fast-forward to today, and it seems like most forms of communication enable for delayed responses. We get busy. We may forget to reply. Texts, messages, emails and posts can all go unanswered for hours or even days, a practice that while annoying, is generally accepted in today’s constantly on-the-run society. Technology has enabled us to dictate how, when, and with whom we communicate.

I find how we communicate, especially using technology, to be particularly interesting. Technology has given us the power to edit what we choose to communicate.  Certainly we can edit what we communicate when speaking, but digital communication enables for greater awareness before we actually communicate; e.g., it’s easy to review something written in its entirety before hitting publish, post, or send, than it is to edit what we’re saying in real-time.

Like controlled distance, technology has given us greater control over what we choose to present. We can present to others what we want known. I think this is a positive improvement on the way we’re able to communicate. At the same time, I think that choosing what we want to communicate can also be detrimental. It’s easier to communicate successes than it is to freely disclose our challenges. This in turn, I believe, creates a warped perception of others living the “good” life, which can lead to feelings of missing out or even feeling depressed.

However, as The Atlantic writes, social media does have a positive role in human relationships. I for one took some time to see the value of social media as a valued form of digital communication. Growing up in the late 90s and 00s, my preferred means of digital communication was AIM. I still prefer instant messaging (on gchat) but I’ve grown to realize that not everyone shares my preferences. Texts, emails, direct messages, and wall posts are all valuable alternatives to digital communication, especially when finding a mutual time to connect is such a challenge.

I’d like to close by saying that in this age of modernity, no matter how many avenues to connect technology provides, they are at the end of the day just tools to facilitate conversations. This excerpt from The Atlantic article really sums up my views on the use of social media:

“Facebook can be terrific, if we use it properly. It’s like a car. You can drive it to pick up your friends. Or you can drive alone. How we use these technologies can lead to more integration, rather than more isolation.”

On “Stop Kony” Campaign


Earlier this week, an SD-based non-profit, Invisible Children, released a video highlighting the atrocities caused by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. Kudos should definitely go to the IC team for putting together a pretty stellar marketing campaign and raising awareness about the issue. I’m sure that up until watching this video, millions worldwide had never heard about this issue.

Despite IC’s success in this regard, the non-profit has received a ton of criticism. This HuffPo article does a good job at summarizing just some of the issues: poor spending practices, military action support, posing with guns, and neo-colonialism.  The first issue, poor spending practices, is the focus of this post.

The notion of poor spending practices stuck a particular chord with me because it reminded me of how MUCH I think the International Development industry is in dire need of being restructured. Although notions of fundraising and development aren’t as important for development agencies as they are for non-profits, the whole campaign reminded me of the importance of raising money, even when it’s not necessarily the organization’s ultimate bottom line.  Here’s why:

Even at non-profits, “sex sells.”

For the absolute longest, I generally associated this phrase with for-profits. From DECA during high school, to flyers for activities at Penn, to everyday commercials, I learned (quite obviously) that sex sells. So how does this phrase apply to non-profits? Though non-profits aren’t necessarily “selling” a product or service, they do need to market their cause to drive donations in order to carry out their mission.

Perhaps “sex” isn’t the proper term when it comes to marketing at non-profits. Maybe “heart-touching” or “emotion” might be more appropriate. Whatever the word, marketing (re: development and fundraising) is clearly important for most non-profits.

However, that the bulk of IC’s spending isn’t on “direct services,” but on awareness and filmmaking, I think, is a clear example that demonstrates how awareness (and hence, presumably fundraising) may all to often be of more concern for non-profits than to actually conduct “on-the ground” actions that actually drive change. Of course, defining “change” is much harder when the bottom line isn’t as tangible as turning a profit for shareholders.

IC definitely did a great job at raising awareness this past week about their cause, but as a (theoretical) donor, wouldn’t I rather see my donation going to activities that are changing things in Uganda, rather than just raising awareness about the issue? Of course!

Sadly though, I think most non-profit contributors (myself included) pay far more attention and get much more joy in donating after seeing something heart-moving than to take the time to research how donations are being spent. If only there was a way to make it easier for donors to more easily figure this out. At the very least, it’d definitely provide much more transparency concerning the activities for non-profits, let alone raising accountability.