Today, I had the chance to sit in the front row of a Q & A with respected news correspondent Anderson Cooper. The Q & A was part of a preview event Anderson was invited to participate in at Portland State University Native American Student and Community Center before he was to be whisked off to give the keynote speech at PSU’s Simon Benson awards banquet that honors alumni and philanthropists.
During the Q & A session, which I was able to attend thanks to my connections with the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communications, Anderson shared the story of his long hours and hard work and late nights and then eventual rise from fledgling, solo reporter to where he is today, one of the most respected television news correspondents and anchors in our country. He anchors Anderson Cooper 360, reports for CBS’s 60 Minutes, and has been an ABC News correspondent and has reported for World News Tonight and 20/20. Over the years, he has reported from war-ravaged villages risking his life for the story he believes needs to be shared.
Anderson Cooper is one of those genuine, sincere, trusted, natural story tellers who asks the tough questions without being arrogant as some television personalities seem to be. In his conversational style, he’s someone with a lot of integrity and who is “sympathisch,” which is the German word I think of when I think of Anderson Cooper. Nice, is what my online dictionary says, but that is not it exactly. Anderson’s passion is for story and sharing the stories that matter, stories that make people think and feel and especially move to action.
He says he will always share these kinds of stories. He will not just report a story in order to beat the ratings race. He’s been reporting from forgotten places, or places that people have never even heard about, for years. He’s not about the ratings or the popularity or the number of twitter followers, though he’s got those–over four million to be exact.
Anderson said people ask to pose with him to get their picture taken, and he usually happily obliges. “Ninety-nine percent of the time. I am honored that someone cares and wants to get a photo with me.” They will then post on Twitter or their other favorite social media platforms.
One time, though, it was 2 a.m. at a bar when someone approached him for that “photo-op,” and he thought, Oh, it’s really late and if we start this, everyone in the bar will want photos. So, instead he said something like, “Hey, how about if we forgo the photo and just have a conversation. You can tell me about yourself, I’d love to hear about your family.”
The person who asked to pose in a photo with Anderson Cooper, however, was not interested in talking or sharing or conversation with the correspondent. Nope. He just wanted a photograph of them together. Perhaps, he wanted to post it on his Facebook page and Twitter feed or Instagram site. Bragging rights. It was sure to garner a bunch of “likes” and “wow” and “jealous” comments.
“People today replace real life conversation with the image,” Anderson Cooper said.
Indeed, people want to tweet it or post it or show it to their friends even if they have not really lived it.
As I wrote his quote down, the one about replacing real life conversation with the image, he looked directly at me and said, “See, what you’re doing, and have been doing much of this time,” and he smiled. I told him I just didn’t want to forget his quote; and yes, I was also getting some video for my one of my grad courses, and okay, I did tweet and post a photo of Anderson Cooper on Facebook.
But, his point was so well taken.
When have we as a culture become so obsessed with technology and social media and connecting with everyone but who is right here with us. And, why do we feel this need to post every single moment of our lives for the entire world to see then say ‘wow’ to us for the entire world to see, while we are actually missing the very moment we are getting kudos for.
We need to be reminded to be present with whom we are at the moment, with the situation we are in right now.
Real-life rather than the image.
When I found out that I was one of the eight students in my U of O graduate program to get a seat for this “by invite” only event with Anderson Cooper, I had emailed the organizer, asking in as much of my “I’m not a brown-noser” voice as possible, if there would be an opportunity for photos with him afterward. The organizer replied that it was a possibility.
However, after Anderson Cooper made that comment to me about real-life and the image, I was not about to ask to get a photo with him. I felt shallow for even thinking of it.
His statement really got me musing on presence and being present.
The way the event turned out, there were no opportunities for photos with Anderson Cooper as he had to leave for the charity/awards night.
But, given the opportunity, I’d like to say, that if I had to choose, that I’d rather spend time with a person rather than needing a photograph.
As a big social media person, Anderson Cooper reminded me of these, my own values indeed. The importance of being present, rather than preserving the moment for later. Presence.
I’ll take the real-life over the image any day.
Oh, okay, I like my photos with people as well, but we need to keep this in perspective for sure. I’ll take both, if I can have them.