Capturing Reality

"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?' 


  1. context is so very important. As you note, good and bad are different for different people or even the same person at different times.

    Rather than identifying the trade-offs, I work to make students aware that trade-offs exist. That is, i am gaining X, but I am losing Y. We don't have to qualify the X and Y, but be aware that with one, comes the loss of the other. Then we just have to decide whether the gains and losses are worth it.

    As it stands, most students (and people generally) are not even aware that trade-offs exist. The assumption is that tech = additive, and good.

  2. My name is Josh and I am a student of Dr. Strange in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I enjoyed this post and I agree that it is important to consider context and individual preferences in every situation. What works for some people isn't necessarily as beneficial for others, but it is important to always keep an open mind and think about what goes works well with the current situation.

  3. Hello,

    You are a very "bad" man, and by "bad" I do mean good. This post is incredible. I was reading your blog as an assignment for class, and I stumbled upon a treasure. This class that I am in is led by an instructor, whom I believe, thinks that any and every piece of technology should be instilled in the education system, and that everyone would be better for it. I'm not against the idea but I see many more problems and solutions that should take priority over advantages and abilities of tech use in schools. But I really like your post because you present both perspectives through a contrasting story. It was a great read!

  4. Hi,
    My name is Heather, and I am currently taking EDM310 at the U. of South Alabama. This post is an educational eye-opener. Almost everything is good in it own context. And what is, "best", changes with each situation. GREAT POST!