After years of lurking, here goes my first post...
In the cell phone thread, several folks noted that they feel isolated from the environment when they bring a camera. I wonder how much of this is inherent to photography vs. the attendant state of mind most people have while snapping away at every turn of the trail?
Consider the typical compact digital camera, which with it's effectively limitless storage capacity and auto-everything, encourages taking lots of photos with a minimum of thought or effort.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, consider large format photography. Having only a handful of exposures to make and an investment of time in setting up a shot encourages one to slow down and close in with the environment, to think critically, and to find things one would completely miss if just casually hanging out.
Personally, doing the former absolutely disconnects me from the environment, while the latter is imbued with a certain zen that makes me feel like an active participant in my surroundings. Interestingly, I think this holds true with almost any type of camera as long as I'm technically proficient with it, and I use a tripod and cable release. Maybe it's not having to hold something in your hands?
Hands or not, I think presence of mind is what this is ultimately about. For me, contemplative photography is just one way I can reliably bring my focus to the present. As a bonus, I get lasting, vivid impressions of my experience to appreciate and share.
I'm curious to hear more thoughts on the subject.