Posts Tagged ‘phones’

There’s a couple next to me at the bar where I’m sitting–I’m writing at Ted’s Montana Grill in Boulder.  The guy is eating his dinner in silence because his spouse is on her phone. Occasionally he picks his up, too, because he looks bored. But for the most part, he eats alone, one bite of his steak at a time. They are doing things as everyone else, and maintaining the status quo.  Nothing wrong with that, they are like everyone else, consumed by news of someone else rather than the one they’re with.

It reminds me of a podcast by Seth Godin I listened to today about marketing new ideas to people–people who would rather maintain the status quo.  Because people really don’t like change.  It could get better but it could also get worse.  Better to not choose, risk it, and just leave it alone.

So, the woman stares at her phone between bites of her burger.  And the guy eats alone.  Again, nothing wrong–it’s what everyone else is doing.

But jump forward to 2038.  Twenty years.  Then when they’re 20 years older and all that time has passed, will they be glad they spent those dinners in silence? Consumed by the news of the day, other people’s, perhaps friends, maybe just acquaintances.   Time keeps moving, and in this moment, it’s easy to see it as never-ending.  Plenty of time to waste.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
  ~Pink Floyd, “Time”

Seth Godin talks about sticking to your plan if you have a product or service you believe in, especially if it challenges the status quo.  He says we are in a different world, one where niche-marketing is the new paradigm.  And there are people who are willing to take that risk and try something new.  That’s our audience.

So, that’s where I am with my photography projects, like The Wise Photo Project, where I photograph older family members, often on film.  I’ve recently started offering the photo sessions and photographs for free at senior centers, because it is that impossible to get people to deviate from the status quo: “We never shoot family photos anymore, and nobody we know does, so oh well.  We have phone pics.”

My Mother, printed and with me in my home.

But I see it differently.  We don’t live forever, and high-quality studio portraits aren’t just for celebrities and to illustrate magazine articles.  They’re family history.  They’re vitally important.  I live with photos of my Mother and Father in my house, on the wall next to me.  My Mother is no longer here, but it’s not a low-resolution phone snap on my computer that I get to have and live with to remember her, but a real portrait that I made, printed and framed–a real photograph.

I photograph older people because they matter, they’re a big deal, and no one treats them like a big deal.  And no one else is photographing them, so if I don’t, the photographs won’t exist. Made on a 4″x5″ negative.  I brought a print to him for his family.

We have come so far and advanced so much technologically, and somehow art has become “convenience first,” which I don’t quite understand.  Quality can be sub-par, but if it’s easy, we seem to accept that.

I don’t.  Simple as that.
Who said art has to be easy, or that easy art is the best art?

Because Grandpa can look amazing if we add a little quality, and make his portrait with something better than the phone in our pockets.  And 20 years from now, when he’s long gone but we still have that beautiful portrait to remember him by, we will be glad we didn’t worry about maintaining the status quo.

It takes vision.  Just like it takes vision to put the phone down and talk to your spouse at dinner.

Digital convenience, is it really the best thing to have happened to our MUSIC, our PHOTOGRAPHS, our WORDS? Our MOVIES, our NEWS, our POLITICS?

Mp3s have significantly lowered the quality of music we listen to (and we’ve grown to accept it for its convenience), digital cameras makes thousands of images that disappear in old hard drives or lost phones, email birthday greetings replace actual greeting cards, and when was the last time you wrote or received a hand-written letter?

When was the last time we listened to a whole album, in the order it was created, without skipping songs, the way the artist placed them on the record, reading along with the lyrics, sharing the music with a friend?

Even movies on a big screen are being replaced by views on a phone or tablet.

I’m a proponent of listening to vinyl on a real stereo and good speakers, creating photographs with a film camera and printing and framing actual photographs, and writing real letters and cards. Because all of the former ways to listen to music, make photographs, and write still exist.

records camera
writing ipod     laptop-mobile

If digital has an effect of making us accept lower quality, I wonder if it has an effect of making our whole world matter less. Does it make things seem cheap, and worthless? Does it create apathy? So that convenience trumps quality? Cheap made-in-China junk is the choice over a quality build from an artisan. Third-world labor-made clothing is the norm. Quick and cheap, regardless of quality, is what we seem to want. (I even see it in the photography and video industry–quality is not what matters most.)

We’ll buy a new crappy patio set from Wal-Mart and it will look nice for a year, and fall apart by next year, so we’ll buy another one. That’s the model, instead of buying quality, we replace. We’re not rich, but we look like it this year, until it all falls apart.

Is that America? Is the dream just that? Not real, just appearances. In 1959, a Swiss photographer, Robert Frank, published a book called THE AMERICANS, and it depicted the Americans he photographed in his travels across the U.S. on a Guggenheim grant. People panned it when it came out–surely America wasn’t that ugly. The images in the book didn’t match the image people had for America. But they were us.

I went to the local gala event on Friday night and didn’t bring a phone, and it felt like a treat to be disconnected from it. Phones consume our every waking hour. Mine, too.

They interrupt the silence on a walk or hike, at movies and shows, and dinner conversations with friends. They’re in our way at events like concerts, weddings and fireworks shows by folks who feel the need to take something home, instead of experiencing it there. (Note: The bride and groom have a photographer there. Sit back and enjoy the event–be present!)

Are we missing the real thing because of the technology? When was the last time you were without your phone? What did that feel like?

Do you think this can continue, and are we better off with this electronic substitute for the things we used to be able to hold–records, photographs, letters?

Or does it cheapen things, even politics, so that we can end up with a game show host for a president?

While digital allows many conveniences and accesses, is it in some ways unhealthy for society? Does it allow for the instant spreading of misinformation, which can foster hatred or influence decisions, even important ones like in an election? Does instant news make us feel more unsafe, because we think the world is more dangerous with all the negative reports? Is it actually more unsafe? Or is the perception changed because of the onslaught of “news”?

Seems like something has to change. Not to say that nothing good has come from digital technology, but are there negatives as well? And please tell me we’re not going to still be crossing the street and almost getting hit because we’re looking down at our phones in 20 years.