Do You See What I See?

Where would modern social media be without the screenshot?

Image: Travis Isaacs

Screenshots rule. Have you ever been like, “I wish I could just take a picture of exactly what I see right now in front of me with my eyeballs, by just blinking?” Maybe you don’t want to bother with your phone (which we don’t even call a cameraphone or smartphone anymore because it’s so standard that your phoneputer comes with eyes on either sides of its head), either because your hands are full or dirty or maybe your phone is, unusually for you, somewhere else. Maybe you don’t want the people in the scene to see you taking a photo. Don’t you wish you could just “Print Screen,” but for the world in front of you? It seems like something The Terminator would be able to do. Or like, any robot.

I’ve had this desire many times and yes, I’m sure that if I were really able to take a picture with my eyeballs, you would yell, “But you’re not really experiencing the vista, you’re just capturing it for files you probably won’t even review later!” Or maybe I would fall into a trap like they do on one of the better episodes of “Black Mirror,” of always reviewing the footage and getting into arguments about it. My memory is photographic enough as it is and that’s problematic, I suppose. But I really would like to have this ability.

In the meantime, I live increasingly more of my life in front of a computer or a phone and the things I want to talk about or show people happen on those screens. I already have the ability to capture what I’m seeing by “taking a screenshot” or “screenshotting,” as perhaps you might say it, so I take a lot of screenshots of things that happen and then make remarks about them, either posting them or sharing them or just saving them for blackmail purposes.

(A quick and useless aside here: screenshot is really the past participle that we also parade around as a noun, which should make the verb screenshoot.)

(Another aside, about terminology: some people say screengrab or screen capture or screencap. I find the first one unpalatable [literally] because of the quick succession of “cr” and “gr” sounds you have to make with the hard palate, and the second two a little too focused on the feeling of a “gotcha” but I can see how both of these options might appeal to people who don’t want to deal with the complications of declension involved with “to shoot.”)

The screenshot has totally revolutionized the world. (This is an opinion and an argument, and you could insert many different nouns in that sentence and defend them admirably, but this is the hill I have chosen to command-shift-4 on.) How else would minor celebrities share their public statements to social media, but with screenshots of an apology composed in their skeuomorphic Notes app? How else would we preserve offensive, objectionable, and otherwise deleted tweets for posterity to tsk-tsk over on the evening news? How else would we share with our IT representative the error message we keep receiving when we try to export the file to PDF? How else would we get advice from our friends on how to respond to crazy text messages from our exes? How else would manual re-Instagramming exist? How else would we be able to share (b)locked content with our peers? How else would we tweet whole paragraphs from Big Important News Stories? How else would Buzzfeed create any content about autocorrect fails? How else would we be able to remember what old Facebook looked like? How else would hackers have exposed the private messages of Blac Chyna on Instagram? Where would The Shade Room be without the screenshot? How else would we have preserved Snapchats before they disappeared? Why do you think Snapchat INTRODUCED a notification that tells you when someone took a screenshot of your snap? (Related: why doesn’t Instagram notify you when someone takes a screenshot of our perishable story?) How else would Alex Jones have apologized for Pizzagate? How else would we share any images of any television show or movie ever made and then converted to a digital format? The shitpic probably wouldn’t even EXIST were it not for the advent of the screenshot. Would the colloquialism “RECEIPTS” have had such a second wind? How else would advertisers know that their ads were getting through to Breitbart even though they had explicitly blacklisted them?

Brands Try to Blacklist Breitbart, but Ads Slip Through Anyway

If you answered “with a regular camera” to any of the above I want you to punch yourself in the eye because that is not the point of this exercise. All hail the shortcut, whichever one you practice.