A Kodak ® Moment

I suppose I’m dating myself by admitting that I actually used to enjoy the Kodak commercials on prime time television. They haven’t been around in quite a while. Do you remember them? Some family or group of friends would be having a great time together, doing something either adventurous or warm and fuzzy like a ski trip or a family reunion. Then someone would pull out a camera – a  Kodak, of course – and the group would broaden their smiles and scurry to assemble in a formation of perfect symmetry and unity. The camera shutter would snap, and voila! “A Kodak moment,” captured for posterity.

Granted, the commercials were about as hokey as could be – at least by today’s standards – but I liked them because of their underlying message: Families and friends should take time to do enjoyable things together, making memories that are worth recording on film. I liked that the folks in the commercials didn’t seem rushed or concerned about being someplace else, doing something else. They were focused on one another, and the activity in which they were engaged together. They were completely present to the here and now. Seemingly, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The slogan, “a Kodak moment,” became so popular that it was commonly used to describe any heartwarming or memorable experience. I still occasionally hear people use it.

When I heard recently that Eastman Kodak Company is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection, I was shaken. The reasoning behind the move makes sense. With the advances of digital technology, consumer demand for the company’s “bread and butter products,” film and film-using cameras, has declined. According to a January 5, 2012 article in The Wall Street Journal, Eastman Kodak tried to make up the loss by delving into the chemical, bathroom cleaner, and the commercial and consumer printer markets. The first two failed, the latter two achieved some success. But it hasn’t been enough to keep the company afloat. Business is business, and I can understand why Eastman Kodak declined. But, it’s not the decline itself or the need for bankruptcy protection that I lament as much as it is what the decline symbolizes: the decline of real-life Kodak moments.

Digital technology is amazing, useful, and it makes our lives (including mine) a whole lot easier. It also, however, moves things along at a much faster pace. Consider the contrast:

In the “Kodak Moment” age, families gathered for a relaxed meal, lively conversation, and perhaps a board game or two. The only interruptions would have been the telephone or doorbell, both easily ignored. Wanting to preserve this beautiful time together, they’d thoughtfully pose for a picture (some more thoughtfully than others), snap the picture (or multitude of pictures to assure at least one would turn out), and take the film into the local pharmacy or photo shop for developing. Once the film had been developed, the family could shuffle through them, reliving the experience.

In the “Digital Moment” age, families do much the same – gather, eat, talk, and play, but there generally are more distractions. The kids, even Dad and Mom, stop to respond to text messages or post on social networks with their smart phones. Someone thinks of a funny YouTube video to share, or looks up a new game strategy online. The meal or game continues, but it’s not the sole focus of their attention, and the people involved are the primary means of interaction. Sure, most people can successfully multi-task (moms have been expertly doing this for centuries); the interruption does at least briefly separate the individual from the family. While they’re having such a great time together, someone thinks to snap a picture – or maybe several pictures – either with a digital camera or a camera phone.  Because the pictures can be so easily snapped and unsnapped (deleted), there’s less worry about one or more of them turning out poorly. That’s great, but it also takes away the pre-meditation. There’s no longer the setting-up of the photo, no longer the concern over getting it right or wasting film, nor is there the anticipation of waiting for the film to be developed and the excitement of viewing the results. It’s possible to print out the photos, but how many of us actually do that? For most of us, I bet, it remains an info byte on a disc or hard drive. That’s assuming we take the time to download it from the device.

I had a conversation about this with some friends the other night. They, too, had noticed the headlines about Eastman Kodak’s predicament. We all had our cherished “Kodak moment” memories, and saw the company’s downfall as the passing of an important era. The husband of one of my friends was away on a business trip, and she made an interesting point.

“While Brian’s away,” she said. “We keep constantly in touch by texting. We send messages back and forth often throughout the day, and it makes us feel closer even though we’re in two different places. Then we talk when we can, at least each night.”

This, too, is an important era. Digital technology does help us to have faster and more frequent communication, and that can be a boon to both business and personal relationships. It also gives us the ability to spontaneously record happenings that otherwise might be here and gone in a flash. That’s the upside. The downside is that we face the danger of losing the art of intentionality. We can routinely split our attention in many directions, and allow ourselves to be distracted by ring tones and alerts. We can snap a pic of the moment, but without the anticipation of waiting for the results or a tangible way to share them, the moment can be forgotten as fast as it arose.

The threat of bankruptcy for Eastman Kodak Company signals the death knell of the photographic film industry and the “Kodak moment.” Hopefully, it’s not also the death knell of family-focused activities and the careful sharing and preservation of those family moments.

Marge’s latest book, Strengthening Your Family, published by Our Sunday Visitor, was released November 1, 2011.

Visit Marge’s website: http://margefenelon.com/

Follow Marge on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/margaret.fenelon

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