Our smartphones are tiny, starving little data monsters that we carry in our pockets and need to feed every few minutes. They tap into the anxiety centers of our brains and demand that we text someone in the middle of chopping onions, or that we watch a Youtube video in the middle of a conversation. The smartphone’s insatiable hunger is so intense it even interrupts our own need to feed ourselves. You’ve seen this whenever you’re at a nice restaurant, or you’ve seen the end result on your Facebook and Twitter feeds – people taking pictures of their food moments before they chow down.
These sad folks want desperately to silence their stomach’s loud screams of hunger, but first these Instagram-ers and Facebook-ers and Tweet-ers must feed the smartphone beast with a picture of what they – the humans taking the picture — are about to eat. There’s even a Tumblr page filled with pictures of people taking pictures of their food.
To an outside observer who has the uncanny ability to sit in front of a plate of food and not feel the need to preserve this memory for when they’re old and senile, fully understanding that they’re going to be eating many, many more meals in the future, the practice of taking a picture of food before you eat is silly and generally of no interest to anyone on a social network. I am not one such outside observer.
I wrote all that, calling out an entire sub-sub-sub-culture of people, when I do it too. And maybe even you. But we have to be better than this. While the practice never hurts anyone, I think we can all agree that it’s fairly useless outside of a Yelp review. It can be rude, disrespectful, and make you look like a douche, and there’s no greater modern day social faux pas than being labeled a douche.
So rather than tell people to stop taking pictures of their food, I’m going to supply the food-photographing public with some simple questions to ask yourself before you take the picture to determine whether it’s worth doing.
Did You Make It?
Whether it be a plate of food, a lovely rocking chair, or even a baby, we take pride in the things we’ve made. When a project is finished, we want to shout to the world, “HEY GUYS! LOOK AT THIS THING I MADE!” After the announcement is when we learn that the world doesn’t really care, but some out there will at least appreciate the effort and give it a Like on Facebook.
So the first question you have to ask yourself before you snap a picture of your chili dog (or whatever) is, did I make this? It’s a simple question, and failing it might be an early warning indicator of severe mental retardation. There isn’t a whole lot of pride to be found in simply buying something when compared to making something. Let’s use the chili dog mentioned above as an example.
You go out to a hot dog joint and order the chili dog you love and you want to post a picture on Facebook. What you’re saying is, “Look what I just did with money!” — a sentiment no one appreciates; it’s tacky. But you change that to “Look at this thing I made,” and all of a sudden there’s something to admire and respect, even if it’s only the absolute minimum of each. I can go out and buy the same chili dog that you bought…but can I make it? Do I want to put in the effort to make a chili dog that I can be so proud of that I want to share the visual experience of it with friends and family? If I do, it would be a one-of-a-kind chili dog; it’s my chili dog, whereas the one you bought is yours and everyone else’s, thereby making it an experience not unique enough for cataloging and sharing.
This question raises other questions that you need to ask yourself, like…
Is It From A Fancy Restaurant?
After you ask yourself the first question, either this question or the following question should be your immediate follow-up.
As you view your meal through a digital prism encased in plastic, take a moment to glance up from the screen and take in your surroundings. Ask yourself, is this place fancy and expensive and known for elegantly decorated plates? Is the presentation of this chili dog something that you feel this particular hot dog joint does better than any other? Does it come with two sparklers sticking out the top and is it placed on your table by an acrobat after a series of backflips? In other words, if you’re spending money on this thing you’re going to convert into a s**t pile, is its pre-s**t pile existence a sight to behold? When you look at the plate, do you get the sense that you handed the chef an angry wad of cash and through some form of alchemical magic he transmogrified your money into a pricey-looking food product of equal-looking value?
If you answer no to any of these questions, don’t snap that picture. This entire train of thought leads to another question.
Is It a Generic Meal, Unworthy of Preservation?
Even if your meal is an extravaganza of cheap fireworks and circus folk, very few will want to see a picture of it. This feeling is multiplied by a factor of about two-hundred annoyed eye rolls when you post a picture of a meal so dull that the people on your friend’s list can taste the bland, salt-less protein hunks through their screens, and they taste of indifference.
No one wants to see your broiled chicken breast with a side of corn niblets on a white plate. Doctors use that picture as a flash card for brain trauma patients to see if they can still identify simple objects before moving onto more difficult tasks like remembering they have hands. If you want to update your friends, family, and co-workers about the awesome life you’re leading, don’t post a picture of the food equivalent of white noise. If you’re farily certain you’re not going to remember the meal ten-minutes after you’ve eaten it, there’s no need to capture the memory of the moment so you can look back upon that crappy plate with great fondness when you’re 80. If you’re 80 and looking back on that picture with a smile, many, many things in your life went awry.