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March 22, 2012

Photo mad: Why are we so obsessed with taking pictures?

Photo via Billaday

According to Greek and Roman myth, there was once a beautiful young man called Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. Can you only imagine what a vain creature like that might have done with the Nokia 808 PureView? While he would doubtless have taken plenty of pictures of himself, most people in the twenty first century, including us here at Nokia Connects, obsessively take pictures of practically everything. The burning question is why?

Look at me – It’s all Freud’s fault 

Narcissus fascinated psychoanalyst Freud, the famous bearded thinker who invented our sense of ‘self’, or in simple terms, the ‘me me me’ generation. In the sixties, when self was very much swinging, Andy Warhol told us that one day, we would all have our fifteen minutes of fame. But why have fifteen when you might have fifty or five hundred? And why lug around equipment or even a camera around your neck when you have a smartphone in your pocket that produces superb images? Technology has suddenly made recording ourselves a whole lot easier. Now, every two minutes, people take as many photos as the entire world took in the 1800s. All we need is a phone charger and enthusiasm to snap our every move.

You can never have too much reality 

There is even a branch of psychology that analyses our motives and the emotional context of the things we snap. It’s not exactly new, photographs have been used for years as part of psychological experiments to test perceptions, prejudices and reactions. Reality television has also shown us the ordinary can become extraordinary, at least in terms of attracting public interest. So now that funny cat who burps on YouTube belongs to us, the people. We live in a visual world of media and celebrity. We are constantly eye-bashed by images. Taking pictures give us a chance to get in on the act.

Editing our lives- How we manipulate our image 

But it is not just the taking of photographs that reveals our psyche but what we share, how we share and where we share. About 20 percent of all photos taken this year will end up on Facebook. Facebook’s library already has 140 billion photos, which is 10,000 times that of the Library of Congress and 4 percent of all the photos ever taken. There are the ‘perfect lifers’ on Facebook, who only show their shiny families, expensive holidays and little Sophia dancing for the Queen. You don’t see the rows, or the secret debts, or the spots (thankfully). But as much as there are the planners who pose, there are also many of us who pride ourselves on our spontaneity and the ‘Ooh look at that…get it on the phone!’ moments. Sharing has become the new way of telling our story and even of creating our own brand.

Picture imperfect 

The marriage of communication and image makes our smartphone the perfect companion. Not that pointing the camera at the world around us is always a celebration. Some of us relish the role of photojournalist, others consider themselves artists, making statements and most importantly, making their mark on history. The camera phone empowers us to show not only what’s right with the world, but also what’s wrong.

From the invention of the camera to present day, website 1000memories estimates that around 3.5 trillion photos have been taken. In 2011, 375 billion pics were snapped, an average of 150 for every person with a camera. Do any of these theories explain this vast number?

If you’d like to know what the experts think, join us for a special phototastic podcast where we interview Professor John Suler from Rider University, New Jersey, about his book “Photographic Psychology”. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts on whether self love, an obsession with reality, telling our stories or highlighting the world’s imperfections cause our manic snap happiness.