Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Are Bloggers Like Snowflake Bentley?

The last post I wrote, about bloggers as narcissists, explores the truth from a rather harsh angle. It is akin to aiming the most unflattering light on a person, who then comes out in the photo with black witch-like shadows painted all across the face.

The shadows are real, just like the concerns I expressed were real. But they are still exaggerated by the angle and the ultrabright fluorescent light, and the resulting portrait is a caricature of the person involved.

Today I want to shine a different light on the same phenomenon of blogging and social networking participation in general. I want to talk this time about snowflakes, and about being in love with the world.

There is no question that the world, with all its incredible detail in everything from the smallest snowflake to the towering mountains, is breathtakingly beautiful. There is so much to explore and discover in this vast world, so much beauty, intricacy and uniqueness. And all we can manage before our frail candle finally burns out is to imperfectly savour but the tiniest fraction of this grand and entrancing display.

The first-ever photographs of snowflakes were taken by Wilson A. Bentley, a self-educated farmer in rural Vermont. After years of trial and error he developed a technique that allowed him to use a camera together with his microscope, thus revolutionizing the art of microscopic photography. "Snowflake" Bentley also clearly fell in love with his subject matter, and went on to take photos of more than 5000 snowflakes during his lifetime. He never found two that were alike. He said:
"Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated., When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind."
Looking at our wonderful world, these words by Bentley can easily be applied to almost everything else we find around us, and modern technology has allowed each of us to become a Bentley. We can now capture and share images so effortlessly that it is almost a shame not to do so! There is so much beauty out there for us to appreciate in the innumerable big and little things that we encounter in our every day life.

Have you ever taken a vacation alone? I never have, but I imagine it must be a rather incomplete experience. One of the best things about travelling with someone is that you get to point at the marvels you encounter and shout "wow, look over there!" Human beings are social beings, and sharing our discoveries is like eating our meals twice; we get to savour them alone, but we appreciate them perhaps even more when we see them through the other person's eyes. We derive joy from bringing joy to others in the form of newly discovered beauty.

Each of our lives is itself like a snowflake. Everything around us is unique to our own experience, and it is often breathtaking. Every day is a wonder that we cannot possibly begin to explain, and which we can only be grateful for and yes, fall in love with. Oh, it is not difficult to fall in love with the world, full of the beauty stamped on it by its Creator! And just like Bentley, we are filled with the urge to share it all with others.

Thus, from the moment our breakfast table is set with rustic red plates laden with steaming waffles strewn with sugar-powdered blueberries, to the next moment when our giggly little daughter descends down the stairs in her PJs with her bedhead hair adorably fluffled around her face, to the next moment when the sun magically shimmers on the new bright cushions on our patio set, to the next moment when...it is all entrancingly worth taking photos of and sharing.

Hence, the photo blogs. Is it narcissism, meaning love for the self? Or is it us being Bentley, and being in love with the beauty found in everything and everyone around us?

Personally I believe that there is truth in both viewpoints.

The complication to being Bentley is that human beings have the unfortunate tendency to become so entranced with the most beautiful thing (to us) of all - namely, ourselves - that we can become rather unsocially self-centered.

Imagine for a moment that you visit five different blogs:
  • Blog 1 posts 30 images per day of some natural object, such as landscapes, flowers, or wild animals. 
  • Blog 2 posts 30 images a day of things like food, fashions, jewelry, cars, etc.
  • Blog 3 posts 30 images a day of people such as models or movie stars.
  • Blog 4 posts 30 images a day of the blogger's own family, especially the children. 
  • Blog 5 posts 30 images a day of the blogger in different poses and close-ups.
My Reactions

Blog 1 clearly says to me that the blogger is simply being Bentley. I could be wrong of course, since it is possible to become unhealthily obsessed with just about anything, but I would still have few concerns about this person.

Blog 2 would probably evoke a similar reaction - not much concern for the blogger in terms of narcissism, though hedonism or consumerism might start to cross to mind.

Blog 3 would start to raise a few red flags, because this blogger might be objectifying other people, and we know that is not a good thing.

Blog 5 would probably remind me of Narcissus himself, who could not tear his eyes away from his own image. Being Bentley with oneself tends to lead to that...

Would Blog 4 make me think "Bentley"?

Well, children are quite possibly the most beautiful part of all of creation. Forget for a moment the actual difficulties of everyday life raising them. If we look solely at the visual, then what can possibly outdo their most adorable, carefree and innocent, fresh-as-rosebuds beauty? Every gorgeous smile cries out to be memorialized in photos and shared with the world!

And yet, going all Bentley on our children is really less than kosher for at least two reasons:
  1. While it's okay to look at snowflakes as beautiful objects, because that is what they are, people are not mere beautiful objects, and it is not right to objectify children down to the level of snowflakes. Feels unhealthy and somehow not right...

  2. Perhaps most importantly, we parents love our children to such an extent that our self-love extends to them. Each child is in effect our little "Mini-Me". So in some ways, one gets the feeling that there is not necessarily much difference between Blog 5 and Blog 4
So there you have it. What is your own take on this?

photo credit: CaptPiper via photopin cc


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  2. Nice post! Honestly, I worry that blogger #5 may never advance to the state of blogger #4 post-children--a purist narcissist would 1) probably never have children and 2) still be taking pictures of herself and her new mani-pedi post-children while the Nanny cares for the kids! (sorry ladies) In that sense...if blogger #5 started posting pictures of her kids and became blogger #4, then in some sense she would have improved a bit in virtue. These states of blogger-hood are probably on a continuum between virtue and vice, but I think the #4 blogger is much closer to the virtue side because children are drawing her attention a little bit outside of herself, even if the children are essentially little "mini-me's".

    Also I think blogger#2 is similar to blogger #5 and is definitely a narcissist, not just a hedonist--posting pictures of 'status symbols' is the narcissist's not-so-subtle way of showing off and/or posturing. Certainly, men are less inclined to post photos of themselves in a cute outfit or with a new hair-do, and are much more inclined to post photos of their trophy wife, expensive car, or new addition to the house, etc. which are just reflections of their own self-adoration. I run into a lot of this--not necessarily on blogs (as yours is the only one I read!)--but on people's iPhones. Now that every detail and angle of people's expensive stuff can be captured and stored in their pocket, it seems I am supposed to act interested when their new expensive remodeling project, the enormous costs of it, etc. are the primary subject of dinnertime conversation. It can make visiting old "friends" or really almost anyone in the Bay area (this place is so secular) a real test of my patience. The irony is that I usually have to tolerate some additional rant about how doctors "make way too much money" while Matthew works 18++ hours/day, 6 days a week at a tiny fraction of minimum wage, and we struggle to keep solvent because of med school loan repayment.

    The only time I get a bit irked looking at pictures of people's kids is when they have just one kid (but are otherwise fertile and financially loaded--I know this because they have already showed me a thousand photos of their stuff on their iPhone...). These couples end up spoiling the one kid as if it were some kind of fancy pet--essentially the child just becomes a doll to play with, and yet another luxurious status symbol--so these sad parents, I'm sad to say, are likely inching back toward the purist narcissism from whence they came. From what I have seen, parents with a few kids are much less inclined to turn their children into status symbols, and their photos tend to be more about their children interacting or playing and less about any one child looking like a perfect little GAP-kid.

  3. I think that the guide to healthy use of blogs or facebook or whathaveyou is accountability and honesty. I try to look at what I write over a space of time and see if I am portraying things relatively accurately, or if I am just trying to project an image of "my life as perfection". If it is the latter, than I'm falling into a state of narcissism and the blogging is pointless -- it is a lie and it could be making people feel bad because it only portrays the aspects of my life that I am proud of. If it is the former, even if all I am writing about are the beautiful moments I at least try to be honest and remind myself, and anyone else who stumbles on it, that these are the good spaces in a hard life. It is good to share beautiful things in a troubled world.

  4. I am one of those people who posts a ton of pics of her kids (I know, I know…) and I can tell you firsthand that what goes through my mind is something like this: "Yes, parenting is challenging and often humdrum, but then there are these wonderful {snowflake} moments with them that light up my day and I get so inspired by them that I feel the need to share! So here's my 101st photo of my daughter for you to enjoy!"

    I know it's probably too much sometimes, but my intention is certainly not to objectify my girls. It's not about dressing them up all cute or showing off expensive possessions. It's more about the delight I feel as a mother in the spark of personality that shines through their eyes or faces… the love of their innocence, the delight in their existence.

    That's pretty much it!

    1. Hi Trish, thanks for reading and for your comment. I do understand and relate to your motivations - to capture and share the natural beauty and innocence of children and the sweet daily moments that are indeed so heart-warming and inspirational. Still, we do part ways in the sense that I don't think a good intention is enough here. I actually think that taking too many photos of the children may in fact have harmful effects, as I discuss in my post http://leazsingh.blogspot.ca/2014/06/5-ways-to-keep-kids-modest-in-age-of.html