Polaroid vs. Cameraphone: Zeitgeist

Things learned from my 300 Days of 30 project so far:
1) A cameraphone is no substitute for a high-quality, multiple-megapixel digital SLR.
2) A cameraphone is a totally acceptable substitute for that party favorite of yesteryear, the Polaroid Instant Camera.

It’s not quite right to say that the Polaroids were there to define the spirit of the times, it just happens that now, years later, we look at them with both reverence and a sort of honorific irreverence. But I think with the hyperactive self-awareness we have these days, our cameraphones are becoming something of an attempt to connect with that past, taking poorly-planned shots of ourselves having fun and expecting that our kids will look at them the way we look at the Polaroid shots our parents took. At least on a subconscious level, we’re intentionally creating our own Polaroid-less Polaroid photos.

Interestingly, the distinctive shoot-and-print is coming back to reality, though now it’s more of a retro-flavored gadget for partiers and campers rather than the staple of American existence it was back in the 80’s.  The main obstacles I can see for this product in today’s world are that you have to purchase both the camera itself and then the film.  Also, you have to bring it with you – on purpose.

Only a relative handful of people would be willing to shell out the cash for this fun toy, and fewer still will remember to take it with them wherever they go.  Not that everybody did this in its heyday, it’s just that in Polaroid’s heyday, nobody had cameraphones.  With cameraphones, we take our cameras everywhere because we take our cell phones everywhere.  It’s natural selection at work.

So I’m pretty sure cameraphones will continue to document everyday life.  Future generations will look back on our under-lit, pixelated, out-of-focus snapshots of us with our friends the way that we now look back on washed-out, overexposed, out-of-focus Polaroid shots of our parents and their friends.  It’s that essential piece of human nature that makes Hipstamatic such a delightful and popular iPhone app.

Which brings up another point: cameraphone technology is evolving rapidly, so it won’t be very long before kids look at our cameraphone snapshots and comment on how old the photos look.

Case in point: they’re already shooting music videos on iPhones, and they look good:

So far, my little project, which I anticipated would teach me things about myself, has actually changed something about me: I no longer mind the awful quality of cameraphone shots.  I used to hate them on an artistic level, but now I appreciate them on a cultural level.

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