Friday, March 1, 2013

"Something's Lost And Something's Gained"

(Thank you, Joni Mitchell.)

Every innovation comes with a price, even the best new thing, which is so superior to it technological antecedent, I don’t even know why we’re talking about it. 

With any gadget or invention, with all their indisputable advantages, there is always something that’s lost.  And, once lost, even if you want to, you can never get it back.  (I fear for the future of the charcoal barbecue.) 

In Inherit The Wind, a play premised on the “Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial”, there was talk  of the inevitable trade-off that technological advancements requires:

“Mister, you may conquer the air.  But the birds will lose their wonder.  And the clouds will smell of gasoline.”

I don’t take pictures anymore.  It got too easy.  I used to like taking pictures, the high point being in 1981, when we took a “Photo 1” class at our local Community College, and learned all about lenses and f-stops and focal lengths, in preparation for an extended photographic safari to Kenya. 

We took two cameras and four lenses, from wide-angle to the cumbersome “300.”  They were called “bayonet” lenses, because, to change them, you had to twist one off the body of your camera, and twist the replacement one on.  They were bulky, delicate and heavy, requiring you to lug around a compartmentalized, canvas “camera bag”, which, lacking a “card”, also included boxes and boxes of unexposed film. 

When you think about what it takes now to take a picture, the comparison seems like the Dark Ages. 

We have a black, three-ring binder, filled with the pictures we shot on that photographic safari.  Every once in a while, we take it out, open it up, and the whole trip comes rushing back. 

All the pictures in the book are good ones.  Not because we were great photographers.  There was a trick we had learned.  To have an album full of good pictures, the trick was to throw the bad ones away.  Everything left was sensational.

Today, there’s no such thing as a bad picture.  You can adjust the lighting, you can adjust the framing, and, I’m sure, other picture enhancers I don’t know about.  Every shot becomes “picture perfect.”  Of course, you didn’t do it.  Your camera did. 

That’s the tradeoff:  You gain simplicity.  You lose “I took that picture.  Isn’t it amazing?”

(I am insulating this observation from the body of the piece, aware of its vulnerability to mockery and abuse.  In the Old Days, you had to take your pictures to the drugstore to get them developed.  And you had to wait, often a week or more, before they were ready to pick up.  When you went down and got them, there was always that tense and exciting moment before you peeled open the envelope to see how they turned out.  That moment is entirely gone.) 

I understand the values of DVR and binge-viewing.  We watch TV shows when they’re scheduled, for the excitement of “Something’s coming on I think I’m going to like.”  And if we like it, we have to wait a week to like it again, savoring its pleasures, and anticipating its return.

The trade-off for television:  You gain convenience and control.  You lose the comfort of routine, and of ineffable sense of community, knowing others are watching this at the same time you are.

It is easy to dismiss people reluctant to roll with the times.  But, imagining an “Exhaustion Factor” from constantly changing to keep up, a day will inevitably come when you yourselves feel attached to your habitual way of doing things, and you’ll want to escape the technological treadmill, and remain comfortably where you are.

But you will not be able to.

Because the new stuff won’t let you.

1 comment:

pumpkinhead said...

I don't think you're as unique as you think you are in terms of some of the things you think your readers won't identify with - the excitement of watching a TV show when it's "on," of going down to the drug store and picking up your photos after waiting several days for them, and other personal foibles you have shared over the years, thinking we will think you're crazy. I've identified with quite a few of them.

Another example of gain/loss by the way... the "prove you're not a robot" piece of leaving a comment used to be almost fun because we'd get some kind of nonsense word to make fun of. Now, the protection may be better, but deciphering the capatcha words now drains any amusement out of it.