I still remember a time when photographs used to cost money. I know this may seem quaint to many readers, but there was a time when taking a photograph meant having to load a roll of film into a camera.
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Then, after you were done shooting the pictures, you would take the film to a store, get it developed, go back a week later to pick up the prints, only to discover that the pretty girl in the one picture you were particularly anticipating had chosen the worst possible moment to assume a pose suggesting terminal lockjaw.
It was a simpler time or, at least, it seems that way now. With my limited understanding of the nuances of aperture settings and shutter speeds, the number of acceptable prints I would get from a roll of film could usually be counted on the fingers of one hand, with a few fingers to spare. This meant that the few pictures that did come out well were cherished and admired, sometimes even framed for posterity.
Things are different now, of course. Where I used to wait and watch and agonize over each frame I shot, now I click away happily, secure in the knowledge that my trigger-happy ways won’t burn a hole in my pocket. The result is that after each vacation, I have a couple of thousand pictures that need to be cropped, filed, resized, uploaded, annotated, backed up, shared, trimmed and mollycoddled in a thousand other ways. By the time I’m done with the monstrosities, I’m about ready for another vacation.
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They tell me technology allows one to take control of one’s life, but strangely enough, I don’t seem to be in control of anything at all. Perhaps what that bromide really means is that it allows one man (Steve Jobs) to take control of everyone else’s life. Yes, that seems to make more sense.
I used to buy records in a store, read the liner notes and listen to the same records till they were worn and used up, and well-loved and memorized. Now, I have 20,000 songs on my iPod, most of which I have never listened to, ever. I usually have the random shuffle feature turned on, which means that at any given moment, I have no idea what’s playing.
It’s not so long ago that phones were used to make calls to other people. You picked up the phone, dialled a number, spoke to another human being, then hung up. What a benighted world we lived in then! My current phone has a calendar, an organizer, a timer, a stopwatch, an instant text messenger, a Web browser, a video camera, a coffee maker, a Swiss army knife and microwave oven, all built in. It still does not reliably handle voice calls, but that’s a small price to pay for being Superman.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Besides, it’s considered terribly gauche to actually speak to anyone any more. Texting is where it’s at. The spoken word seems destined to go the way of the dodo and the semi-colon, doomed to extinction by changing mores.
I heard a news story on the radio a few weeks ago. It was about a new phenomenon called sexting—where bored teenage girls take compromising pictures of themselves to share with their friends. The breathless news anchor described it as a virtual tsunami sweeping the land, raising skirts in its wake, and described how sexting was sounding the death knell for plain old boring texting. I could not help chuckling at the delicious irony. Texting had spelt doom for actual sex among the parents of these same teenagers, and now here it was, being killed off by its own salacious nemesis. The mills of the technology God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small. Isn’t it a wonderful world?
Papi Menon is a writer and technologist based in San Francisco.