Photographs are not as important as they were in the past. Maybe with the digital revolution photographs are much better than they were before, but they are definitely not as precious to us as they used to be.

In the past we used to take photos on occasions and it was a more careful thing. Our cameras needed film inside them which meant only 24 or 36 pictures without changing the film. We took time to take photographs and only took pictures of important things that REALLY mattered. There were two simple reasons for this. The first was that the number of photographs on each film were limited. Secondly, unless we had a polaroid camera (which only had 10 pictures on each film and were also more expensive) we had to wait until after we had taken the film to the shop to be developed which could be a few hours, days or weeks. It was not so long ago when the competitive advantage of such a shop was the ability to develop such photographs in an hour – for a premium price of course!!!

Now everything is just too easy! In fact most of us carry a camera most of the time and use it too much. This may not be a regular camera, but nowadays, most mobile phones have cameras on them. We click and delete, click and delete and sometimes do not even delete. Photographs are digital and can live on our phones or hard drives forever; neglected, unloved and uncared for. These include our mistakes, accidental pictures of the sky and endless knees, photos with obscuring thumbs and strange angles. Photographs are too easy to take and unappreciated.

In the past photographs were printed and carefully kept in photo albums that were brought out and shared on special occasions. Photographs were about communities of shared interest and memories and now we have the selfie! The selfie, pointless photos of me, doing totally pointless things and sharing it with the world. I am convinced that selfie means self-absorbed rather than self-taken photograph. Selfies are the hallmark of a self-obsessed group of people who relentlessly self-promote – this is just another term for attention seeking. Yet these predominantly millennials do not see the irony of this self-promotion. All these selfie uploads are largely ignored by their peers who are doing just the same to get that bit of attention from those around them because they are pointlessly doing just the same. The selfie is about me, myself and I.

And yet in the midst of this there is a new over-sensitivity to how others see me. 100 likes on Facebook means nothing if I have one negative comment. Why does everybody hate me? How can I make people like me? I need to be accepted, please like me. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Flickr. Tumblr. Snapchat. I invite the whole world please don’t hate me – here is a new selfie I just took!

© Richard Horton 2016



Please check all the new vocabulary, using a dictionary if necessary before answering the speaking questions.

Speaking *

1. Why was photography limited before the digital revolution according to the author? How far do you agree?

2. Were photographs taken with greater care in the past? Why do you think this was (not) the case?

3. Do you agree that photographs are just too easy to take nowadays and as a consequence are less valuable? Did they matter more in the past?

4. Are photographs appreciated more if they are printed and kept in albums than if they are stored on mobile phones / hard drives?

5. What is the author’s view of the selfie? How far do you agree with the view expressed?

6. The Author states that the selfie is about self-promotion but if everybody is only interested in this then nobody is paying attention to what others are doing. Do you agree with this cynical view?

7. What is a millennial and how do they view the world?

8. Are millennials oversensitive about acceptance or are they the same as previous generations, but expressing this need through social media?

9. Are photographs less important than they were in the past?

* You need to prepare these questions for conversation during your next online / face-to-face session with your tutor.