Sunday, October 06, 2013

Technology Circles

So, in the beginning, cavemen and cavewomen used to draw on walls. We call that prehistoric art. When young men and women draw on walls today, no matter how artistic or profound the message, we call it graffiti and vandalism and have it removed or painted over, and if caught, the artist is arrested. But in reality graffiti is a valid form of communication, just as cavemen's drawings were their way of communicating with each other, and of leaving their stories for the future.

In later years families would gather around the large living room radio, listening to important news broadcasts, storytellers, or music and sometimes shows. Some of the shows were one time performances, some were early game shows in the form of quiz shows. Some were broadcast in parts with stories spread over several shows, like episodic television we now call sitcoms or dramas. Back then they were serialized stories.

For years, people would carry verbal or written messages from one person to another. Or they would send brief messages by carrier pigeons (precursor to air mail?) and then by telegraph. And when people  would send their messages on telegrams they would necessarily be brief, using abbreviations and omitting extraneous words to save money.  Brevity was cheap. One had to go to a telegraph office to send and pay for the message, which would be translated into Morse code to be sent over copper lines. The telegraph operator in another town would receive and decode the message, and a paper copy of it would be delivered to the recipient. Nowadays people encode, send, open, decode and read the messages on their own. We call it texting. Brevity is still the way to go.

People used to call on the phone when it was a party line. You would call a friend and, without you being aware, Ethel across the street could just pick up her headset and listen in. Many people like Ethel would then share whatever they heard with their friends. Important information was printed up in newspapers or announced on the radio.  Now we write whatever is happening, or how we are feeling, what we're doing, what our thoughts are on any subject, by sharing on our and others' virtual walls in Facebook. 

People used to take precious photos of family and friends and others on special occasions. They would send away their film and wait days and sometimes weeks for their black and white film to be developed and printed. The photos, for the most part, were carefully planned because of the costs of developing and printing the images. Even the 'candid' shots were considered carefully by the photographer. Sometimes the photos would be tinted or have color applied by hand. Then came the invention of colored film.  Those photos were precious and put in albums ( books of special paper) to be cherished and handed down from generation to generation. Often there was writing on the front or sometimes the back, naming the event and the people in the photos.  Now we use camera/phones and take as many photos as we want of every damn thing we see, because it doesn't cost anything. And when we label the event or people, we call it 'tagging.' We use Instagram to add color and special effects to the images. We put our photos in digital albums and rarely look at them. We share a few, compared to how many shots we have taken, but most stay stored away on hard drives or memory sticks, never to be seen again, like the albums in the attic. And those we do share, we share by sending digital copies and there is no cost, no extra prints to be ordered or time to wait. We can send that photo of the whale we saw off Martha's Vineyard to a friend on a whale watch off the California coast, and they can send back THEIR whale pix in a matter of seconds. Then we can either call or, more likely, text to converse about who is seeing more whales and getting better pictures.

It used to be some families were fortunate and one member of an extended family would have a moving picture camera. He would be the designated family occasion documentarian, first shooting without sound and later editing the film by splicing it, and adding sound. This was extremely tedious work and a thankless job for the cameraman, whom we never saw in the films because nobody else knew how to operate the camera. Then there was a time when the wealthy or hobbyists could afford video cameras, and pretty much anybody could 'film' the most mundane events, because videotape was relatively cheap and the cameras were easy to use. If we didn't care for the images or the event was boring, we just deleted or taped over those parts.

But we were still a little picky about taking videos everywhere because the cameras were bulky and the cameraman had to look through an eyepiece and so generally was not in the shot and missed out on activities. Unless he put the camera on a table or tripod, where it would promptly be bumped and there would be hours of footage of a wall or people's feet, or aunt Matilda dozing in a chair with a cat on her lap, which was cute for a few seconds but not forty-three minutes. But no matter, we can delete and fast forward through that part, or tape over it.  Now nearly everybody considers themselves photographers and videographers, story tellers and record keepers, because nearly everybody has a phone with apps that allow them to take photos and videos, and to send messages without ever speaking a word to anybody. We can download apps (applications) that will help us edit that pre-school recital video into a full-scale Broadway musical. We write on virtual walls on Facebook, adding photos or drawings made with apps. We carry on entire conversations via texting or even send briefer messages via Twitter, using weird abbreviations and omitting words to reduce a message to 140 characters or less.

The phones not only connect us to each other, they can connect us to our homes, controlling practically any controllable device including lights, the stove, the television, the music system. There are apps that can open your garage door and run diagnostic analysis on your car. There are apps that will start your car on a cold day. There are personal apps that will checkout your symptoms and tell you if you have a simple, brief illness or if you should hurry yourself to an ER. Or call an ambulance. And when many people use their phones in public, especial those using hands-free devices like Blue Tooth headsets, it brings us back to the old party line, where the rest of us can (have to?) listen to one or both sides in a conversation. It seems the old adage is true. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

No comments: