How my iPhone unexpectedly helped me cope with being stuck at home

Commentary: Your phone is filled with tiny delights just waiting for you to discover them.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Expertise Apple | iPhone | iOS | Android | Samsung | Sony | Google | Motorola | Interviews | Coffee equipment | Cats Credentials
  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Patrick Holland
3 min read

Just like many people these days, I've been stuck at home. It's been a difficult time for me. But in the solitude of what is now my bedroom, office and home video studio, I came across a ton of lost moments I'd forgotten about. They were living in my iPhone for years in the form of three-second videos that were recorded when I took a Live Photo. But this isn't just an iPhone feature: Some were Motion Photos that I took using Android phones , which do the exact same thing. This isn't about OS loyalty or specs, but about discovering the emotional moments Live Photos captured without me knowing. At a time when tech companies loftily claim their products are life-changing, this is one instance when it was actually true for me.

Because of all the anxiety that is engulfing our world, I've spent more time escaping to my room lately. It's my office. It's my studio. It's my quiet place. This meme is me in a nutshell: I've been stuck in this room for months and cabin fever is taking over.

But one day when I was feeling frustrated, I closed my work computer, took out my iPhone and started scrolling through photos to take a mental break. That's when I noticed a collection called Live Photos, which contained over 1,300 images. One was a live photo of my cat, Stella. I adopted her while working on A Streetcar Named Desire at the Writers' Theater in Chicago and named her after a character from the play. In the photo, she was napping on my roommate's heating pad. When I tapped and held it, Stella moved her head and let out a tiny meow.

My cat Stella passed away last year. Tapping and holding on this cute photo revealed a few precious moments I'd never seen before.

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

That's when I nearly lost it. Stella died last summer, but as I tapped and held the photo she came back to life. A rush of emotions rolled over me like a thunderstorm rolling in on a hot summer day. To say the least, I did not expect a Live Photo to spark such intense feelings.

I immediately started scrolling through every photo looking for the tiny Live Photo circle indicator. The marketing guru at Apple  that named this feature couldn't have had any idea how on-the-nose the name "Live" Photo would be for me.

I found another photo of Stella craning her neck looking at birds outside my window. I also found other photos that were of family, friends or people I met. There were Live Photos I took with GZA and Masta Killa from Wu-Tang and the Aflac duck at CES . Live Photos also revealed those first few seconds it took my friends to get ready as they were just about to pose for a picture.

A Live Photo selfie of four people acting like dinosaurs.

Abrar Al-Heeti/CNET

(The only Live Photos I didn't engage with were a few I found of an ex girlfriend -- I'm not a glutton for punishment.)

True, I could just watch videos of my cat Stella or my video interview with the Wu-Tang Clan. But those provide a different feeling. Live Photos captured small candid, natural moments that were both mundane and intimate. And the best part was that when I took those photos, my friends, Stella and Wu-Tang didn't even realize these moments were being recorded. The three seconds of Stella that Live Photos brought back to life were a wonderful distraction from the uncertainty that surrounds us all.

As Eunice says at the end of Streetcar as she comforts Stella, "You've got to keep on goin' honey. No matter what happens, we've all got to keep on going."

iPhone XS, Samsung Galaxy S10E, Pixel 3 and 30 other phones take cat photos

See all photos