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Why Do I Like Waiting for My Smartphone Photos to “Develop”?

I recently downloaded one of these camera apps that will make you wait a few days before accessing your photos. The delay reminds me that I was waiting to develop photos as a child and it makes the whole process more enjoyable. But shouldn’t I use technology to make things faster and more efficient? Am I fooling myself by trying to somehow live in the past?


Dear focus-

It’s hard to talk about cameras without even talking about time. Photography is an attempt to defraud the clock and calendar, as film critic André Bazin once put it, “it embalms time, rescuing it from its proper corruption.” As technology becomes more sophisticated, cameras maintain some of the traps of their ancestors, as if they too were frozen in time. The capture button in the camera application of the phone still makes a mechanical click on the physical shutter. Filters blur images and change the color palette, depicting the aging process of digital photographs with immunity.

That being said, I doubt it was just nostalgia that led you to download this app. If you wanted to entertain the fantasy of living in the past, you could easily skip to eBay or go to a thrift store, go to those analog technology cemeteries, and pick up an old SLR. In my opinion, the app fulfills a more specific desire, the wait itself is the first draw.

Most of us, of course, have the opposite instinct. It is well known that people tend to opt for immediate pleasures, even when waiting costs less or offers a greater reward. This cognitive bias known as the “hyperbolic discount” in behavioral economics is so fundamental to human nature that it is dramatized in our early myths. (In the face of the choice between the apple of paradise and immortality, Adam and Eve chose the forbidden fruit.) If so, the speed of contemporary life has further reduced their ability to wait. The one-hour photo boom that coincided with the invention of the mini lab in the late 1970s is a prime example of what can be profitable without the patience of those who know how to exploit it. Customers were willing to pay almost twice as much as 60 minutes to develop the film, compared to a few days. “We live in a society of immediate joy,” said one owner of the first lab The New York Times. “We want things now.”

Focused, I feel like one of those few souls who is capable of tremendous self-control, the kind of person who is willing to give up the $ 50 now offered for the said $ 100. It is certainly a feature that is useful in many situations, even in the case of camera application, there is no real virtue in the happy back. The reward does not increase over time; you get the same photos. In a way, the desire to wait is even more rational than the hyperbolic discount, which has at least an evolutionary advantage (those who deny the rewards that sustain life may not live to see the farther away).

For people like you, only the philosophy of economics and marketing psychology will be so helpful, in my opinion. Bertrand Russell stated in 1930 that the endless novelties of modern existence can become tiring. “A life full of excitement is a tiring life because constantly needing stronger stimuli to make excitement come to be a key part of the pleasure,” he wrote. Russell believed that the immediate joy was the disappearance of the ability to endure those periods of boredom and laziness that made pleasure truly pleasurable, just as long winters increase the joy of the coming of spring. We are creatures of the earth, he writes, and “The pace of life on Earth is slow; autumn and winter are as essential as spring and summer, and rest is just as essential as movement. it’s hard to enjoy the present, so we’re settled for the next entertainment, the next post, the next dopamine success.

It seems to me, Focused, that you feel some of that fatigue. Perhaps choosing to wait for your photos is an attempt to escape the tyranny of pleasure, to save yourself from the daily novelty that threatens you, such as the perpetual scrolling of the news or the bottomless pit of search results, to continue forever. The speed at which we can produce and access images has its own loads. The task of immediately analyzing, editing, and sharing previously captured photos prevents you from fully experiencing the moment that was beautiful enough to capture.

Traditionally, these innovations, designed to speed up the pace of life, have also led to pockets of unexpected laziness. The hour-long photo lab created an uncomfortable stretch that was too short for various requests, with some customers probably walking around town or going to the park looking for cigarettes. The MP3 featured a five-minute download time window (can we wait so long for music?) To write an email or grab a coffee. Author Douglas Coupland once wrote about “snacks of time,” “about the pseudo-leisure moments created by computers when they stop responding.” Our snacks have become scarcer over the years, when they are reduced to those fleeting seconds, when our gaze wanders away from the screen when we wait for the app to refresh or download the page, even though that delay is still noticeable. The beauty of such moments is not like the relief we feel when a snowstorm or a storm stops life, it makes us impossible and allows us to stand still. The delay set by your camera app is an attempt to capture and prolong those moments of unwanted indolence — that is, in a way, to embalm them.

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