18 July 2015

Pictures, Pictures, Everywhere

We can't seem to go a minute without taking an image of something with our phones (and, occasionally, dedicated cameras), sending, sharing, uploading what is often useless dreck, a waste of everyone's time, the time often wasted at work. But perhaps it's all part of the next phase: we're halfway to becoming illiterate, so images will become the only way we document and communicate. They may be digital and called "emojis" this time around, but we're regressing from the written word to visual glyphs.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but what happens when there are no more words?

The user interface, shifting toward an adult "Playskool" environment, might be where we're going whether we want to or not. I am not alone in having observed this shift since long before Microsoft released Windows 8 upon the world. Shorter attention spans and a general loss of literacycollege graduates includedare causing us to dumb down. Our computer/tablet/phone desktops are starting to look like a Denny's menu or a McDonalds cash registermore pictures, fewer words. Customer or cashier, the tired, drunk, stoned or illiterate can just point to what they want without saying or reading a word. Why write actual words when you can just snap a picture with your mobile, tack on a little happy face or swirly-turd, hit Send and be done with the communication?

Might this be related to our refusal to grow up (which is not the same as fighting the aging process)? Dave & Busters is nothing but Chuck E. Cheese with booze for young "adults," and the silly, immature, glitter-infused alcoholic drinks and flavored liquors and beers we drink indicate a population that is not maturing with adulthood. Hell, we even have adult chewable vitamins in the style of Gummy Bears. When I was a kid, I strove to grow up enough to drink real beersans any stupid fruit or mismatched additional flavorand straight scotch, not a sugar-fortified pastel-colored Slurpee with booze in it. Going from Flintstones to Centrum, St. Joseph's to Bayer, root beer to real beer, were rites of passage. We are not growing into adults; we are growing into adult-aged children. Fat, ignorant, spoiled, unhealthy ones.

"Sharing" our lives is no longer taking the time to write something out, to share intimately, one-on-one or one-to-few; it's snapping with our phone a picture of something as mundane as breakfast and broadcasting it via social media for everyone we know, even tangentially, to see, most of whom probably don't give a shit about our breakfast. (Speaking of, do we post our morning poop later? That's about the only use I can see for the swirly-turd emoji that for some odd reason has eyes and a smile.) Ever since film and cameras became available to the masses we have taken pictures, but it was not the primary means of communication, more a photographic record. Digital has brought the cost of taking pictures down to nearly zero, and hard disk (and cloud) storage is not much more than zero per gigabyte today. This allows for taking and saving a virtually unlimited number of shots. The cost of film and developing, as well as a limited number of exposures on a roll, at least gave the photographer reason to pause before pressing the shutter release. We are drowning in a sea of images, but only a fraction of them are good photographs.

The god-forsaken "selfie" has taken this to all-new, narcissistic heights. WTF, people. Send yourself a post card, "Glad I'm here, and glad I'm here with me!" and sign it, "Love, Me." One of these days I'm going to grab someone's selfie stick and beat them over the head with it. It will be worth being escorted out of the venue by Security, and maybe a couple of people will applaud.

The trend is not completely without its merits, though the good is often a dark good: evidence. Shocking crimes and ugly truths swept under the rug for far too long are reaching our eyes, and if the networks won't bring them to us, the Internet will. Hopefully and with luck, we'll finally begin the process of righting some terrible wrongs. It's a shame that it had to come to this, but if it takes dash-cams and body cams and citizens with camera-phones to keep us honest, or assist in the prosecution of those who are not, then so be it.

A cloudy bright side, but a bright side nonetheless.

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