Reflection 272: Point and Shoot

June 6, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

After eight years of intense use, my first digital camera, a Panasonic Lumix boasting a Leica Vario-Elmarit lens with 12x optical zoom, up and died last week. I raided my small emergency account and called B & H to order a new one, a point and shoot Lumix ZS15 with Leica Vario-Elmar 16x optical zoom. I’m all thumbs with the new one, it’s so tiny compared to the old clunker, but I can feel it becoming an extension of my eye in one day.

Where I left off in Reflection 271 was contemplating the drag of the past on the present as traditions extended beyond their natural life expectancy. The ticking clock that need not tick was the example I led with, moving on to metopes and the long shadow cast by Alexander Hamilton across our modern national economy. Today it’s the clicking shutter of my new digital camera, a shutter that is electronic and makes no sound on its own, but does for our sake out of sentiment. The past won’t let go of us because we drag it along with us everywhere we go. Even in noiseless electronic shutters that we insist make themselves known. (I have since set mine to be silent.)

Contemplating this reluctance to let go of the known and familiar, I realized I had lived through well over half the era of film photography, an age now gasping its last breath. George Eastman came up with photosensitized sheet and roll film in 1885. In 1936 I got a bakelite roll-film camera for a boxtop and twenty-five cents, updated to a box brownie in 1940, then to a Bolsey B2 35mm camera in 1946. I graduated to a 4×5” Speed Graphic in the 1950s, then a Leica followed by various Nikons, and regressed to view cameras on tripods in the 1960s and 1970s. I went digital in 2004. Now my film cameras and lenses lie about on dusty shelves, memorials to times past. Somewhere in there I insisted on using a homemade pinhole camera made from a coffee can with a Polaroid back held on by duct tape.

All that is behind us now. These little point-and-shoot gadgets don’t require film, darkrooms, developers, or enlargers. They even focus themselves. And beep or click at you to let you know they are doing something if you want them to. I used to take my two 11×14” film holders loaded with four sheets of film into the field, giving me four exposures, so I took pains to make each one count. Now you can shoot a thousand images in hopes of getting one that’s passable. The revolution has happened almost overnight—the photography revolution, the cellphone revolution, the computer revolution, the armed drone revolution, and all the rest. I wake up in a different world today than the one I was born, raised, and schooled to enter.

No wonder we cling to the past because modern changes come upon us so suddenly. Now technology does everything we worked so hard to master only a few years ago. It’s all point and shoot, press and send, push a button and somebody is blown to bits two continents away. People, formerly so self-reliant, curious, capable, skillful, and emotional, are becoming obsolete. Their job now is to push a few buttons to keep their technological handlers happy, then to upgrade to the next tiny, slender, shiny new gadget—with its countless apps.

Such are the tools we have come to rely on in engaging other people and the natural world beyond. We can sit in a room and have anything we want come to us on demand within a second or two. If it takes any longer we grow impatient and move on to the next urge. Now everyone is a photographer, communicator, author, musician, naturalist, chef, critic, and videographer on his or her own authority. I am what I say I am more than what I have applied myself to and so learned to actually do in my life. Me now great point-and-click photographer. Have camera, will travel.

Or so it seems. I think what I’m saying is I miss the discipline of having to apply myself through concentrated attention just to get from point A to point B, or through any given day. I am a born navigator and firm believer in human consciousness, ability, and disciplined action—as opposed to human technology that makes it all so easy that very little seems challenging or worth doing any more.

Yet I am devoting this week to the research seminar sponsored by the Quaker Institute for the Future in Bar Harbor, where I hope to blog about what’s on my mind concerning getting from where I am into the future. Do I really want to go there? Or am I a creature out of the past, a quaint Neanderthal finding the times leaving me behind, a denizen of days long gone and barely imaginable.

A thought I encounter every day now is: What will happen when a solar storm sends such a transient current through the power grid that every computer-cellphone-iPad-and transportation hub is shut down for the indefinite future. No electricity to recharge our gadgets, run our businesses, distribute our food, filter our water, heat our homes. What, then, do we have to fall back on to get us through the next days and weeks? To keep our children warm and fed? To haul the supplies we need to keep going? It might not be a storm; could be a hacker, a blast from a satellite, a volcanic eruption, or asteroid streaking upon us from the sky.

No, I am not becoming Mr. Gloom and Doom. It just seems to me that time is so compressed these days that change is happening faster and faster, leaving no time to adequately prepare for a graceful transition into the world that’s coming our way.

The future will be the grand total of what everyone looking and working ahead will make it turn out to be. Powerful forces are contemplating that project even today, and have been at it for years. A bunch of smart and well-meaning Quakers holding a seminar in a room in Bar Harbor, Maine, doesn’t command the resources that those others who are interested in the same problem actually do. In my life, the future has arrived in the form that the movers and shakers have given it through long planning and strong action. George Eastman helped shape the world I grew up in, as did Eastman Kodak, General Electric, Ford Motor, and the likes of Al Jolson, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Change isn’t just possible, it’s a certainty. Even if we do nothing to shape or promote it, it’s going to happen—and soon. Like, this evening, or tomorrow. But whatever happens, it won’t arrive as we expect it to, or when we are ready for it. There are too many variables in the system to make trustworthy predictions much beyond saying that. The National Weather Service duly issues seven- or ten-day forecasts, and then revises them in light of what actually happens—right up till tomorrow, and even today.

I thoroughly enjoy my small part in the Quaker Institute for the Future. But that’s very different from believing I have any say at all about how the rest of my life is going to shape up. As long as I can, I’m going to stay tuned to this station in hopes of finding out what’s going to happen tomorrow, and if I‘m lucky, the day after that. Don’t worry, I’m all set to point-and-shoot my way into the future. You can count on me to do my part. Tomorrow we’ll have a better sense of whether I deserve your trust or not.

My promise to you is: I will stay fully engaged with what interests me in this life—including the future—until I am forced to lay down my head and disengage because I can’t keep up my end of the bargain one moment longer.

Till then, I remain, y’r friend, –Steve


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