The technology keeps moving forward, which makes it easier for the artists to tell their stories and paint the pictures they want.—George Lucas
We’re calling them Generation Z, those who are currently teenagers, and already they’re having an impact on the world. Wth smartphones glued to their hands and cell phone cameras ever at the ready, one of the traits this generation has learned from the Millennials right before them is that experiences matter over materialism. The big difference between the two group of youngsters, though, is that Gen Z is finding ways to make everything they do an experience, whether it’s the ride to school, ice cream afterward, or brushing their teeth before bed. Everything ends up on Instagram. And if it’s going to be on Instagram, one has to look good doing it.
Helping teens decide what makes them look good is Pinterest. Unlike their parents, who use the social media app for things like recipes and decorating ideas, Gen Z pins pictures of street styles and ads from their favorite online magazines so they can put together their own wardrobe combinations; a little of this, a touch of that, and they have a look that is all their own.
Now, imagine what it would have been like had my generation had cameras at the ready and an easy distribution method when we were teens. While we almost certainly would have taken just as many pictures as teens today do, what we captured would have likely been different. For starters, I’m not sure how often we would have been able to see anything due to the overwhelming amount of smoke that was everywhere. Even the few of us who didn’t have a pack of cigarettes tucked away somewhere had plenty of friends who did, so even a picture from the back of the driver’s ed car would have had smoke. No wonder we’re all dying.
Would looking at pictures of ourselves all the time given us a better idea of what to wear? While I’m still seeing 70s influences for the third season in a row, most of us actually had the fashion sense of a squirrel, and if one looks at the majority of us today, that hasn’t changed much. Of course, we country kids weren’t as big on the super-wide bell bottom pants as the city kids were because they were a hazard; those flared legs were dangerous around farm implements, so we tended to keep our 501s with a boot leg for practical reasons.
One thing for certain, though, had we had phones back then with the capabilities of those today, we would have captured some kick-ass music events. Imagine recording AC-DC, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffet, Foghat, Chicago, The Doobie Brothers, Three Dog Night, or Led Zepplin back in their prime! Bands that are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month were still young, the concerts were legendary, and what happened after those concerts is responsible for Generation X. Imagine how great it would be if we had captured that all on Periscope and then saved it!
Being able to take plenty of pictures as we go through life sounds like a great thing, but there are consequences to such an over indulgence. The first one, right off the bat, is storage; it was a problem when I was a kid and it remains a problem now. We weren’t terribly shy about taking pictures when we considered it worthwhile, but where are those pictures now? Chances are, a few are stuffed in envelopes at the back of a drawer or file cabinet. My mother was into scrapbooking as she got older; what remains of ours are in a couple of large plastic containers under a bed at my brother’s house. Teens today, though, tend to not keep their pictures all that long. When the card on their phone begins to get full, they start deleting. They’re too young to realize the value of the pictures they’re taking today. After all, they’ll be taking more pictures tomorrow. Unfortunately, of all those experiences they are having, it’s not until years later that they’ll realize which ones were really important.
The other consequence is that taking so many pictures and sharing them changes how we shop. An article in Busines Insider this morning details how the Gen Z fascination with pictures and Instagram and other social media is killing more traditional retailers like the Gap, J. Crew, and Abercrombie & Fitch. Not only that, but it is that same attitude that is leading an increasing number of designers to shift their runway calendar so that instead of showing a season ahead for department store buyers, more and more are showing current season and allowing for instant online purchases immediately after the show, skipping both the buyer and the department stores all together.
How and when we take pictures, and our fascination with sharing them, changes our decision-making process, from where we go on vacation to what we’re having for dinner. Since almost everything we do ultimately has some economic tie to it, that impulse to share everything online is dramatically altering the world’s economy, for both better and worse.
When I first picked up a camera some 30+ years ago, my dream, along with those of my colleagues, was that maybe one of my pictures might have an impact on the world. Just one. Today, kids with smartphones are changing the world with every picture they take.
And more than ever, if there are no pictures, it didn’t happen.