A little while ago, I listened to an interview with Milton Glaser, legendary graphic designer and creator of the I ♥ NY logo. He said something that still strikes me to this day: “We’re always looking, but we never really see.” It’s not a revolutionary or unheard of sentiment, but I do think that there is something vital in those words, particularly when applied to the culture we find ourselves in.
First: we are always looking. As a photographer, be it conscious or not, I’m always looking at the things I encounter in search of something: perhaps something as specific as a photograph, or something as broad as an idea. If you’re an artist, I’m sure you can attest to this. However, over and above that fact, we’re always “looking” in other ways too. Our daily lives are bombarded by more imagery and information than most of us know what to do with. Chances are you’ve heard terms like “information overload” being used in increasing measures, but actually, I don’t think the absolute abundance of information is the real problem here. We are. Why? Because we never really see.
We’re in danger of becoming nothing more than consumers, mindlessly ploughing our way through things that could actually help us if we gave them a bit more time. There is after all, a significant difference between “looking” and “seeing.” Looking is passive; it’s nothing more than the act of turning one’s eyes towards the direction of the subject. Seeing is an active state which indicates perception: relating what you’ve seen with previous knowledge.
Now, I’m not saying that we should stop looking or necessarily reduce the amount of information and imagery we consume daily. It’s not about subjecting ourselves to less, it’s about using some discernment to wisely choose what we look at instead of just plunging into things without thought. Most importantly, what we do with the information afterwards is what makes the real difference. Insight requires reflection, and reflection requires pause. If you don’t take time to reflect, you’re limiting the impact something can have on you and ultimately the amount you’re able to gain from it.
We’re more content hungry than ever before, and our lives have become incredibly full. We need to choose what we give our time to, considering whether the things that consume our time enrich our lives. Most importantly, we should be purposeful in making time for reflection. Unless you do that, you’re looking, but you’re not really seeing.
(Cover image illustration by Milton Glaser.)