Moritz: Individual Acts Of Democracy

Nov 7, 2016

Susan Sontag writes in her essay, Plato’s Cave, that photographs “furnish evidence.” And maybe this helps explain why people are so suspicious of taking selfies in the voting booth.

The other day I figured out Snapchat. That is, I figured out how to use my iPhone to take a photograph, add something to the photograph, and then send it to a friend. I’m not exactly planning to take a selfie of me and my ballot when I vote today, but apparently there isn’t actually a federal or state law explicitly prohibiting us from doing so – at least not in the State of Vermont.

Those who oppose voting booth selfies fear that the practice might encourage voter fraud by providing confirmation that a bribed voter had actually voted as directed. And too, there’s a fear that people with social influence could use their selfies to sway followers to vote similarly. Plus, in something as serious as the election of our new leaders, selfies seem a little silly and – well – self-indulgent.

But for many people, photo-sharing social media services have become a legitimate medium of communication and community. Many argue that banning these selfies violates free speech. Others believe that being able to document the action of following through on one’s beliefs fosters participation and in turn creates unity. For young voters, this is important.

How advancing social networking will affect voting is still unknown, especially as our notions of private and public continue to change. And so too will our actions, and how we represent those actions, leading me to wonder how we’ll hold onto our authenticity.

Sontag ends her essay saying that “having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participating in a public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form…Today, everything exists to end in a photograph.”

And that was in 1973.

Social networking services such as Instagram and Snapchat are easy to fall in love with because you’re the center of attention. Suddenly, the one behind the iPhone is the one in control.

I can use photography to design how I document the world and I can use photography to design the way the world views me. And that feels good.

In fact, it feels downright powerful.