I’m stirring my pot of quinoa and watching closely as the germ starts to separate from the seed. It does so in kind of a delicate spiral motion, like it’s carefully orbiting the grain. The water in the bottom has nearly completely vaporised, but I know it needs to withstand the stove top just a bit longer so I reach for my phone out of my back pocket and I “wait.” By wait I mean I open Instagram and I begin performing that perversely satisfying action with my thumb. The one in which we describe as scrolling. So I’m scrolling and I’m double-tapping and I’m technically interacting with my screen— at least physically. I can’t say it’s anything more than that, more than something that requires even a slight bit of mental digestion because suddenly I catch myself heart-ing a pretty mediocre shot of someone’s sad peanut butter cookie, after I just heart-ed someone else’s stunning mugshot of the facade of the Taj Mahal.
That these two pictures are even allowed the same opportunity to receive as much admiration or praise as each other is actually kind of baffling. Imagine if this were 1968 and I had invited all of my friends over one evening to sip some lemonade and paint our faces in bbq sauce and ultimately crowd around a projector screen to view a slideshow of my summer. Imagine that instead of showing them my best and most carefully-composed pictures from my trip to The Grand Canyon (why not, right?), I chose to interweave those pictures with lousy ones of my meals, my feet on tiled floors, a worn sock that looked strangely like a Madonna, and a few regurgitated comic illustrations. (I’m likening these to the modern day meme). I might get a few laughs from some of those pictures, but I’d most likely get more furrowed brows and finally have to soothe everyone’s whispers of suspicion with a “How did these manage to sneak in there…ha..ha.” Here’s the thing though. My hypothetical friends in this situation aren’t as judgey as I’m making them out to be. In fact, they’re in the right. They should be questioning what I’m essentially proposing with these lame and trivial photographs, which is that the banalities of life are something not just to be enjoyed but to be thought of as exceptional.
The problem with me asking for a janky picture of my sandwich to receive as much credit as a tactically thought-out photo of a historical landmark, a cultural event or remarkable moment is that I’m almost asking you to level the value of each photo. This makes things get weird though. Because of the binary way we consider exception, when I ask you to regard something ordinary as extraordinary, I’m also asking you to regard something extraordinary as ordinary. As the value or admiration of the shitty photo goes up, that of the meditated photo goes down. Our ability to distinguish between the exceptional and the unexceptional slowly becomes blurred. And we become numb to the things that used to induce wonder.
And that’s scary. That’s scary because that’s what our curiosity feeds on. We think, our brain spins its wheels and blows steam, we develop and grow on account of wonder. And if we’re all so constantly saturated by images and trivial things that we begin to become bored and impassive, how will we continue to electrify and jumpstart ourselves?
About that time my quinoa started to burn and the sour, nutty smell and the thick brown ring around the base of the pot told me I had overcooked it. I tucked my phone back in my pocket and couldn’t help but to make the analogy that we may be similarly overcooking ourselves. That we may be ruining our own apetite for wonder.