TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The campers next to them were noisy, rude, and downright obnoxious. She winced as more profanity echoed through the woods. Her husband had insisted that camping would be “educational and wholesome fun for the kids.” He’d sure gotten the educational part right!
That morning, they packed up their belongings to head to another campground. But, when they were about to pull out…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
You remember the day the cameras stopped focusing. You remember how difficult it was, at first, to see the world through your eyes, unfiltered by a device.
The college semester was finishing up and you were ready for the summer break. A large group of your friends were going out to the Cascades to camp for the weekend. Remember the essentials— alcohol, burgers, and cameras. You don’t want to miss a thing. You would bring back ups of batteries, multiple lenses, light boxes, even your new drone. It was going to be a hell of a party, and you were going to capitalize on it. Grow your following. Become “Instafamous”. A couple of drone shots of the mountains, followed by some choreographed dancing with your best buds, and the TikTok followers would start pouring in. Maybe you’d find a way to pitch your tent while lip-syncing from that Disney scene. If the lighting was right. If you wore the right jacket. Or maybe you’d try the cinnamon challenge for laughs. And if it looked painful enough, you would get some Likes. TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat. You remember, right?
Hundreds of photos, thousands of videos. Different locations but always the same plastered smile. You share your life in those images. You make your life, in those images. You give your privacy up for a chance to go viral. Dancing the same tired dance, live-streaming reactions to other people’s videos. None of it is you. None of it is authentically you. And yet you like it. You enjoy following the trends, sharing your life with strangers, putting yourself out there. It takes courage you tell yourself. It isn’t easy.
But tonight in the mountains, when you are shotgunning beers and throwing your history reports onto the fire pit, you lose something. You take a selfie with your friends and thumb back into the camera roll to make sure your expression was the perfect example of “freedom”, and yet it’s not. You frown. The image is blurry. Maybe you jerked your arm when you snapped the shot.
One more time! Say cheese!
Nope. You can’t get a steady shot. Maybe you’ve drank too much, or maybe you smoked some weed? You don’t remember, but no matter, you’ll take a timed shot on a tripod you brought along. This will come out perfect.
But it doesn’t. You wrack your brain, why is it focusing on the raging fire? We are right in front of it, you stupid camera, focus on us. Maybe it’s the lighting, it must be the twilight hour. Your friends have given up on your antics so you post the photos quickly with the hashtags “too drunk” and “focus fail”. You decide to set up your drone and grab some footage of the party.
Campers eventually pair off into tents, and you are left alone with your devices by the smoldering remnants of the fire. You methodically scrub through all of the photographs and every second of video footage for one clear shot of the evening’s events. But there isn’t a clear face in the lot. No eyes to be seen in the piggyback race that turned into a chicken fight. No smiles from the spectators of the mud wrestling match. Not even a clear stern look from the angry RV campers made it through your lens.
Now you are frantically flipping through all captures. How could they all be blurry? Without these, you’ll forget about this night! You won’t remember the laughs or the cheers. The stumbles and the dances. All evening, through every moment, you were behind your devices, shunning invitations to join in, just so you could savor the memories, digitally, later. And now in the breaking dawn of light, not one face was in focus. Stupidly, every other thing in the shot was in focus, but the people, their faces, were blurred.
You check your Instagram, and your feed is full of photograph after photograph of haunting smears of faces. Pixelated patches where mouths should be. Eyes, rubbed out of existence. TikTok videos show three-quarter view noses protruding from distorted head shapes polygonally. Snapchat messages morph and blur close ups of faces to the point that each video looks like a whirl of colors and lines.
You close your social media apps and see that even your phone is blurry in your hand. Oh, your hand is wet, too. You touch your face, unsure of what you’ll feel there. Maybe your face is contorted. Distorted. Smeared and fuzzy. But no, you’re just crying. Big fat wet tears are blurring your vision. You’ll figure out that a technological glitch has caused all cameras on the planet to stop focusing on human faces. You’ll lose interest in the social media sites you worship.
It takes you a long time to come to terms with that. You, like most people, sought out new devices, trying to find the one camera that might capture the memories you’d surely forget. The truth though, was that faces are forgettable, but people are not. You are not the focus of the world anymore. It is not about you. It was never about you.