Friday, September 17, 2010


by Michael Dymmoch

Couple years ago, I brought eight rolls of film to Helix for developing, and the camera guru said, "You know it's 2008? They have these new cameras that don't require film."

"Yeah," I told him. I've got one. It's a pain to use, so I don't."

My Pentax finally quit in 2009. When I brought it in for repairs, the camera guy told me they could fix it—if they could get parts for something so old. He suggested I enter the digital age and offered me a Cannon that he assured me would take point-and-shoot pictures as good as anything my Pentax ever made.

It does. Even when I forget to set the right ISO, it takes great pictures. Even when I forget to correct for backgrounds that are too bright or too dark.

And I've just discovered Photoshop, so I'm looking forward to fixing the color when I forget to use the flash, and to removing the stray arms and butts that my brain edits out when I'm shooting—details my Cannon G10 never misses. (Notice the product placement? You have to give credit where it's due.)

So why should my misadventures with photography be of interest to writers? Or readers for that matter?

Maybe because ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Huh??? (Scroll down to "Modern Observations.") I started out as a child, drawing (not very good) pictures of things that interested me. I had to be forcibly detained in school, where I (eagerly) learned to read, but had to be forced to write. Years later, my writing skills improved when I had to write papers to pass courses. I also had to learn to use a typewriter. Decades later, when I was hired to write, my boss told me I was going to learn to do it on a computer.

My first personal computer was a TI Pro, the machine computer magazines said was better engineered than other available desktop models. (Better engineered, maybe, but—alas—not better supported.) My word processing program was WordStar. Ultimately I was forced to go to a PC (I've blocked out the brand name—too many freeze-ups, restarts, and disk cleanups.) Consequently, I was forced (adapt or die) to learn Word :( . (My son could tell you this was traumatic for both of us. After one particularly nerve-wracking intervention, he patted me on the shoulder and said, "Mom, millions of people use Word. You can do it.")

When I volunteered to do the Chicagoland Sisters in Crime Newsletter, I had to learn to use novel fonts, add columns, insert pictures, and include symbols.

Which led me to appreciate Pages when I got it. No more tearing my hair out trying to get the photo to go where I want it with respect to the text. No more having the inserted picture disappear entirely only to reappear somewhere else or in duplicate.

Which brings me back to my camera. Now that I've gone digital, I notice I take pictures instead of notes. Why try to describe a fuzzy trailer, if you can just get all the details right by shooting it?

Addresses? Shot of a street sign and the number on the building—no written explanation required. (It's what good CSIs do to document the location of a crime.) And a photo has the advantage of reminding you what's at that address.

But, as in Nature, unused features tend to atrophy or disappear. (Our tails are now vestigial, our appendices more a hazard than an asset.) Taking photos soon takes the place of creating concise pictures with words. Adding a smiley is so much easier than describing precisely how you feel. The software that makes writing or blogging so easy leads us to jot off stuff without much thought or care, leads to letting superficial observations replace careful study and analysis. And Google is replacing research as a source of information.

Virginia Woolf retyped her manuscripts numerous times to get them right (on a manual typewriter!). Today, writers have cut and paste and Spell-Check and digital dictionaries (You don’t even have to know how to spell it to look it up!!!), but they often don't bother to make subject and verb or noun and pronoun agree, or to use the correct homonym.

Ansel Adams spent years in Yosemite waiting for the right conditions for the perfect picture. Today, millions of photographers luck on to prize-winning photos, or digitally manipulate poor ones. (Or good ones. Have you seen Neil Armstrong swinging a golf club on the moon?)

A hundred years from now, how much of what is being written today will still be read? How many of the pictures being shot with all these digital cameras (and in HD!) will be looked at? For that matter, who has time to scroll through all the words or pictures available on any given today to find something worth the time? Writers can now churn out novels in weeks and self-publish e-books or print-on-demand paperbacks with cover art they made themselves. How many of those books are worth reading? How do those of us who take the time to plot and proof-read compete? How do our signals stand out against the background noise?

I know this has been a long rant. (I'm old and cranky. It's what I do.)

What do you think?


Libby Hellmann said...

A rant, okay... but you're using a digital camera!! Way to go, Michael.

Sarah W said...

A hundred years from now, how much of what is being written today will still be read?

Delurking to suggest in fervent hope that it will all be read, but posibly not in a recognizable format?

Michael Dymmoch said...

Thanks, Libby.

Sara W, Do you think it will all be worth reading?

Barbara D'Amato said...

Cranky may be what you do, but you do it eloquently.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Barb, praise indeed.