Monday, April 15, 2013

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts. You are free to agree or disagree with him.


This could easily become grumpy-old-man territory. The Druid complaining that writing damages the memory and all things should be held in the brain. The writers about whom Colette complained in the 1920s, who said that too much (silent) cinema damaged the imaginations of children who watched it. The fears of any new medium, which some old codger is likely to express.

Throw away your Kindles and read real books, you Philistines!

Anyone who expresses such sentiments is likely to be told that he/she is an anachronism and incapable of understanding the fine interplay between expression and modern technology.

Yet at some stage I have to ask the questions.

Do we really need to take all the snapshots we take, or record all the family celebrations we record with our phone-cameras, so that we can paste them on Facebook? Shouldn’t we sometimes let things remain unrecorded, so that they can percolate and grow in our brains? Why not let our minds decide what is a priority in our lives, rather than letting mechanical recording devices chain us to their interpretation of reality?

I think of all those occasions when I have been at 21st birthday parties, or wedding anniversaries, or even wakes for the dead, and have seen a long string of photographs and images expressing every phase of the life of the beloved or the deceased or both.

Believe it or not, the precursor to this line of thought came to me when I was about eleven years old, and travelling on a tour bus through Vienna. In the seat in front of us was a Japanese gentleman who had, glued to his eye, a small cine-camera. (This was in the early 1960s and years before video, let alone more recent technology, had become common currency.) At the front of the bus, the Austrian tour guide would point out some notable feature of his beloved city  – a statue of Mozart or Johann Strauss; the Palace of Justice; the great cathedral with its variously-coloured roof; a gold-toned statue of a Soviet soldier which, at that time, and by a treaty obligation, the Austrians were obliged to leave standing as a memento of their occupation after the Second World War. 

And each time the tour guide spoke, the Japanese gentleman would swing around without once removing his eye from his view-finder, and film whatever had been pointed out.

It occurred to me, even with my primitive eleven-year-old brain, that he had never once looked with his own naked eye at what had been pointed out to him. He had let his camera do the looking. His experience was by proxy (No. I am not suggesting that I had the sophistication to articulate this at the age of eleven, although I felt it.) His only “real” experience of the things he “saw” would be when he played his movie back to his family in Osaka.

So, as we film with our phone-camera and paste what we photograph on Youtube, we are diminishing the power of our brain to discriminate among memories, and allowing technology to become our memory.

Perhaps it would be clearer if I left what I have to say in the form of a poem which I included in my collection The Little Enemy (Steele-Roberts, 2011).

The poem is called Long After It Was Heard No More.

I hope it makes sense to you.

Thank you for not bringing
the camera when I was twelve
feet tall, digging a cavern,
scaling impossible cliffs
meeting that noble and special
one (all of fifteen) before whom
I could abase and win.

Box Brownie, Kodak Instamatic
Polaroid, digital chip all
of them the same would have seen
hard sunlight, a fat and
owlish face with National Health-
type specs before they were
chic, overlong school shorts
to the knees and dark
socks and foolishness.

Thank you for not saving
the moment, for letting it
grow malleable and live
in this obtuse soft grey
organ. For not giving the
objective measurements
that lie like the truth.

“Did we really wear clothes
like that?”
                 No, we never did,
our being set in the present
and not the image’s memory.

1 comment:

  1. This looks as if a reflection upon technologies role in society. We invent, develop and change technology, and in turn, technology changes us, and also becoming an intervening agency to our everyday lives. This brings me back to Kubricks sci-fi - you know the one. Long and boring and about technology taking over us.
    Here, not as rxtreme I can see technilogy as becoming a fundamental part of society. Heck, I remember last year at saint peters students feeling distressed and anxious when their cell phone was taken from them.
    What will tne world be like in years to come?