23 February 2009

Do You Really Want A Digital World?

So I just bought a new camera. A really nice SLR. That's right, the "d" is conspicuously missing because it's a film camera. And, not just any film camera. It's a Canon AE-1P circa 1984. The official camera of the olympics for that year.

I know what you're thinking. What does that have to do with anything? More importantly, why should I keep reading? Simple, because the logic for my decision to purchase an "outdated" film camera carries over into every aspect of our lives.

Think about it. Why has digital replaced film? Because it takes better pictures? Absolutely not. A $200 used 35mm film body and lens kit will shoot the digital equivalent of around 110 Megapixels. And it will do so with much greater image quality, specifically dynamic range, than any digital camera. Period.

Digital is all about convenience. The ability to recklessly shoot 500 mediocre photos in two hours knowing that somewhere in the mess are ten decent ones worth keeping, after they have been through Photoshop. Also, digital gives the ability to email pictures for production within five minutes of having snapped the shutter. In theory, with digital the photographer can capture, process, and send to press, all while still in the field. But, this convenience comes with a hefty sacrifice. Less realism. In a sense, digital photographs are less true.

Unlike a computer, our world is not simply zeroes and ones. As humans our existence cannot be fully expressed, captured or quantified by the numbers 0 thru 255. Human life is a wave. A continuos ever changing series of ups and downs, highs and lows, blinding light and gloomy darkness. That is our world, in all it's analog beauty. How can an algorithm understand that? How can a microchip that cannot feel even the simplest of human emotions be trusted to convey something with a power and conviction that will evoke it in others?

As humans, we are freely giving up the very things that have made us into something more than just machines, all for the sake of convenience. Microwaved "instant" meals, "fast" food, "near" CD quality sound, fruit "flavored" drinks, tastes "like" homemade and so on. Instead of embracing the nuances, subtleties, and textures of our world, all things which make us feel alive- but take time. We are increasingly choosing to cast them aside in the name of convenience.

Just like the lossy compression that is required to convert a living image into a tiny JPEG file, throwing away bits and pieces of realism in the name of convenience- we too must be careful that we do not cast away the beauty of our world in our rush to save a few fleeting moments of time. So, slow down. Prepare a meal with real ingredients. Sit down, get comfortable, and take in a great full quality compact disk recording, or better yet- an analog record. Take the time to do it right. Shoot with film. Think about each shot. Feel the moment. Capture the realism. And I promise, waiting for film processing won't kill you. Don't compress life. Expand it. Live on.

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