BY JORDAN OTERO
The sun’s tired rays stretched over our heads, casting a warm glow over the grass and its patches of brown and yellow. Our shoes crunched in the gravel, the occasional pebble creating a quiet ping against the metal of the train tracks. Our shadows lagged behind the group, morphing into long black capes that swayed to long-forgotten music in the fading light.
It seemed a perfectly natural reaction to want to capture this picturesque scene, to reach for the camera or smartphone in your pocket and snap a photo.
In fact, it’s what I did.
But now, almost a year and a half after my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, I’m wondering if I should have.
In the moment, the whole experience felt so surreal that I convinced myself I needed to document every broken cobblestone, every frayed wire and gray wall. The sunset cast an eerie beauty over the charred remains of the world’s most notorious death camp, which seemed even more worthy of recording. I remember walking the grounds whispering, “People died here,” every few steps as an attempt to bring myself to the reality.
I still get teary-eyed looking through the photographs from September 2012. But is having that physical evidence, that solid reminder of what I saw that day in Poland absolutely necessary?
Humans are social creatures, but modern technology prohibits genuine interaction by veiling reality with LED screens and artificial lighting. This not only drastically alters person-to-person communication, but also transforms the ways in which we experience the world around us.
Our intentions are good and innocent, stemming from an authentic desire to capture a moment and store it in our memory, but are we robbing others and ourselves the privilege of real experience?
Companies are continuously developing new marketing strategies to make their campaigns more interactive. It’s a vicious cycle — they create these strategies to facilitate interaction, thus only perpetuating our immersion in digital devices.
The fact of the matter is that if we live life too extensively in the virtual dimension, it is inevitable that we will lose our connection with reality.
This is not a condemnation of technology and new media. Pope Francis himself even says the Internet, “in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity … (and) is something truly good, a gift from God.”
The key is balance. We must learn how to enjoy technology’s opportunities and contributions to our lives while remaining in control of reality. This means abandoning the feat of being named mayor of your favorite restaurant on Foursquare in favor of an extra minute of conversation. This means experiencing the Pieta and the Mona Lisa with your eyes rather than Instagram. This means sacrificing the highest score in Candy Crush Saga for a heartfelt, “how are you?” and possibly brightening someone’s day.
I don’t regret having the photos to remind me of Auschwitz, but I do wonder if my memories would be more vivid had I not experienced them through the screen.