"Daddy, what are you doing?" my daughter asks me.
"I'm setting up the camera," I tell her.
"So I can take a picture of you guys in front of the waterfall," I respond.
"Why?" she asks.
"So I can capture this moment and keep it forever," I tell her.
"Why do you have to capture it? Can't this moment run free?" she asks.
Paul the Preindustrial Poet refuses to use cameras at all. "I took one picture of my wife and kids," he explains. "But the picture was of me. It was me, detached, looking through a lens, hiding behind a cloud of smoke."
"So you never take pictures?" I ask.
"Never," he says.
"A hard line," I tell him.
"I don't want to miss a minute of life."
"Tell me, do you ever let your mind wander?"
"Yeah," he says. "I see where you're trying to lead me. The issue of detachment isn't about technology. And it's not as if we can carry cameras in our pockets, either. But technology makes it that much easier to capture reality in a way that we miss it. We become recorders rather than participants," he says.
"But we've been recording since the dawn of man. Camp fires and cave walls. It's deeply human to capture it. I'd argue that reality is an act of imagination. What we see as real, how we tell our stories . . . I don't know, those are an act of memory, but more an act of what we imagine to be real. We're constantly filling in the details."
"So, why not reflect later and participate now? Why not allow your memory to be the recorder?"
"Because photos are more accurate."
"Depends on how you define accuracy," Paul explains. "The camera is always black and white and always framing the story. How is that any different from memory?"
"True, but in the moment, you gather evidence. You find tokens. You hold onto letters or images or you remember conversations. We're always reinterpreting our story at every moment. This notion that somehow we 'live now' and 'interpret later' is crazy. We're always doing both. Always."
"But for me, I'd rather be present with my family than allow a medium to get in the way. See, the scary thing for me is that the lens looks transparent, but it makes me opaque. My son and daughter can't see me when they see the camera and it's just not healthy for me."
"Really? There's no nuance there."
"For some, yeah, but for me, none. And that's the thing. There aren't any hard and fast rules for using and rejecting technology. You set a rigid time limit on the pen pal networks and I don't take pictures."
It has me thinking that maybe we're doing a disservice to students when we teach tech criticism as good versus bad rather than asking, "What is best?" And perhaps we're doing a disservice to students when we teach, "What is best?" rather than "What is best for me in this current context?'