by Scott Sadil
No doubt for many of us, but especially for those who came to their sport long before social media existed, the idea of recording our exploits, both good and bad, may well seem antithetical, or worse, to the reasons we set off afield or astream in the first place.
I know some folks who simply refuse, convinced the camera would, at the very least, contaminate the experience – and very possibly make them so nervous or otherwise skittish or self-conscious that all chances of fun, or enlightenment, or whatever it is they’re looking for, would be already forsaken, as though a bottle of branchwater abandoned back at camp.
Yet today the opportunity to have oneself immortalized on visual, digital recordings has become the reason, it appears, that many anglers, for example, go fishing.
In fact, without some sort of visual imagery, something that can be shared with others online, it seems unclear, for some anglers, whether any fish caught and released is real—or whether such a feat holds any meaning whatsoever.
That’s kind of sad.
And telling, too.
But it’s the world we find ourselves in today. Cameras—or phones—are running. We’ve agreed, at least by default, to allow Big Brother to keep track of our lives, that the benefit to this watchful gaze is that our phones make certain we can, if we want, offer visual proof of any proud moment we experience—especially any lunker we might find on the end our line.
We’re all capable now of making advertisements for our lives.
I’m not here to argue whether this is good news or bad. I will point out that from the first moment you fished in front of a guide, say, you were, in a sense, being recorded—your every move, good or bad, was watched, noted, filed. Of course, you could always argue with somebody else’s point of view, an argument more difficult to make with evidence that shows up on the screen.
But all mediated imagery, need I remind you, is subject to editing and manipulation.
Or, as the writer Grace Paley once noted, any story told once is fiction.
Which may seem a long way from the simple desire anglers have always felt for sharing an image of a good or unusual catch, for sharing images of rich moments on or along the water.
Still, it’s worth noting that the desire so many of us now feel is a result of the technology that makes the imagery possible. When we had only words, this was the medium we used for sharing stories of our fish and fishing experiences. Paints or drawing utensils expanded the imagery. And etc, etc. The medium, as Dr. McLuhan observed, is the message: The means to photograph our fish and fishing experiences are now ubiquitous; the reach of social media extends worldwide.
Because I can share, I want to.
Yet should the compulsion to photograph a fish ever feel a little excessive, as if without the photo and thus the capacity to share it diminishes the experience in any way, you may care to ask yourself where this want or desire came from.
And when does a want become a need?
And who does that need serve?
For my hope this holiday season is that you go fishing for yourself, for something that you alone want or need or wish to discover or simply enjoy. Ethics, anyway, as Haig-Brown once pointed out, is what we do when we’re alone, with nobody else watching—or recording.
Gray’s angling editor Scott Sadil wrote his first book about fishing, Angling Baja, on a portable Olivetti typewriter he carried with him on surfing adventures around the world.