Digital Photos: Experiencing vs. Documenting

Armed with a digital camera, or dorky-looking tablet, I find myself faced with a decision: do I want to fully immerse myself in a situation with all my senses, or document it with the camera.  Taking pictures means I’m seeing everything through the camera and my attention is focussed on taking pictures instead of engaging fully in the event with all my senses.

After thinking about this and discussing it with others, I really don’t have a good answer, only a personal preference.  One Patagonia trip highlight was seeing Magellenic Penguins.  At the time I hadn’t been able to figure out the video on my camera (embarrassingly enough, it was purely user error), so I committed myself to snapping a few pics and then sitting in the boat to observe.

Penguins are incredibly animated creatures, but also noisy and a little bit stinky from all the guano.  I was so thrilled to be near these captivating animals, that I just wanted to fully immerse myself in the experience: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the wind on my face, etc.

I discovered later that my brother had taken several penguin videos which he later shared with me.  I was excited to have the videos because it meant that I could keep enjoying the penguins long after we had left Patagonia.  I mentioned this to my brother and he said “Yeah, but while you were busy enjoying the penguins, I only got to watch them through my camera.”  What can I say, in this situation, I got the best of both worlds.

During almost every hike on the trip, we would collectively take a few moments of silence, without cameras or devices, to just experience what was going on around us.  I think this is a nice compromise.

In future situations, I will continue to document events.   However, I will make a point of not using my camera once in a while to capture the experience in other ways. Some things just don’t translate to the digital world, such as the way something smells or feels or my emotional state.

A new alternative is Google Glass, a product designed to allow users to experience and document simultaneously.  If you haven’t heard about Google Glass yet, get ready.  It’s coming – stay tuned for a future post on the topic.

One of my favorites!

One of my favorites!


Interruption Disruption

Remember when an interruption used to be seen as a disruption?  Now it seems strange to me if I have a conversation with somebody that isn’t checking his/her phone.  It was the kind of behavior that just happened without ever discussing the proper etiquette, or rules, around having a phone with you 24/7.

Public pay phones used to come in booths, or against a wall with partitions around it, presumably to allow somebody to have a private conversation.  What happened to that idea?  All of a sudden it’s acceptable and totally normal to talk on the phone anywhere.  And sometimes it doesn’t even matter if you’re alone or with people.

I wonder if people get annoyed with this behavior and start using other modes of communication as a way to preserve privacy while corresponding. Perhaps this is part of the reason why texting, tweeting, posting and emailing are all so popular. A perk of using these modes of communication is it puts the user in control of when s/he decides to look at a message or respond.  A phone call requires an immediate interaction.  And yet, it seems that electronic messages require a different type of immediacy, which also turns into a type of interruption.

A distracting aspect of electronic communication is all the different notifications. Received messages are often announced by a buzz, a noise, a song, a poke, a chime, a bell, a squeak, a croak, etc.  Or sometimes a light flashes in addition to the sound.  In my opinion electronic corresponding missed an opportunity to be the ninja of communication. Instead it’s like a hungry thing, constantly needing attention.  It could have been silent, but instead it makes noise and flashes to get your attention.  Your immediate attention.

Maybe the rapid pace with which communication happens gives it a false sense of urgency.

Digital Photos = Digital Dilemma Part II

In Patagonia I used my tablet to take all my pictures. At first it felt awkward because of the size, but I managed.  I usually carried it by tucking it under my arm during hikes or by placing it in my backpack.  Several months ago I invested in an OtterBox to protect my tablet, which adds heft and weight to the device, but left me feeling totally fearless about snapping pics in the rain, on boat rides, and other extreme conditions.

Totally fearless with the OtterBox in rain, wind, and sea spray.

Totally fearless with the OtterBox in rain, wind, and sea spray.

I was travelling with a group and observed the different ways people were taking pictures.  Everybody used a smartphone and/or a camera. Although many of the travellers had tablets, I was the only one using it to take photos.

For over two weeks my main activities consisted of seeing spectacular, stunning things and trying to document them.  After a day or two, I noticed that digital photos present four main challenges:

Experiencing vs. Documenting – I often found myself torn between wanting to be fully immersed in my surroundings with all my senses and no tablet, or to capture the moment in images.  I started thinking about why I didn’t feel the same way with pre-digital cameras.  When using older cameras, film was expensive so I was more judicious about where and when I would take pictures.  For example I would wait to reach the viewpoint to take pictures rather than snapping them along the way as I do now with the tablet. When I reached the viewpoint I would take a few pictures, not dozens, the way I can so easily with a digital camera/device.

Volume – It is easy to accumulate large amounts of pictures in a short period of time.

Multi-formats  – Cameras/devices take video and images, both of which pose slightly different challenges for organizing.

Synchronization – As I mentioned earlier, most people used a combination of devices to capture images, all of which indicates the need to consolidate them in one place.  Some people used a smartphone instead of a camera because it facilitated sharing photos, via a wi-fi or cellular connection.  Additionally the smartphone could tag the image with geolocation data making it easier to keep track of where the picture was taken.

Stay tuned as I figure out the dilemmas. I’m especially interested in the synchronization bit.

In the meantime, here’s another pic to enjoy:

Parent penguin feeding a large chick.

Parent penguin feeding a large chick.

Patagonia: The Ride to the Perito Moreno Glacier

I just returned from a trip to Patagonia, sometimes referred to as “the end of the world.” As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, so this week’s post will be a bit longer than usual. Enjoy!

One of the many stunning viewpoint we stopped at to take pictures.

One of the many stunning viewpoints we stopped at to take pictures.


Same viewpoint different direction.

Same viewpoint different direction.

Stopped at a ranch house to use the banos.  Look closely for the horses and wild pink flamingos in the distance.

Stopped at a ranch house to use the banos. Look closely for the horses and wild pink flamingos on the left.

A rare eagle spotting just outside to the park entrance to see the Perito Moreno Glacier.
A rare eagle spotting just outside the park entrance of the Perito Moreno Glacier.


A Tale of 19 Pillowcases

A couple months ago I did a massive purge in my apartment. It was interesting for me to see what types of clutter I was accumulating and where it ended up in my place.  I have to confess that I was surprised at my collection of pillowcases carefully tucked away in the linen closet. Although I do get rid of things regularly as part of my never-ending quest to be a minimalist, somehow the pillowcases had been ignored for a long time.  This is how I ended up with 19 of them.

8 pairs of pillowcases and three random singles.

8 pairs of pillowcases and three random singles.

Here are some quick facts about the situation. I own 3 pillows. Two of the pillows are tempurpedic and will only fit in one pair of pillowcases. This means that I have 17 pillowcases for my one remaining normal pillow.  I do realize that this is a distinctly  first-world problem, but it made me think of the bigger implications of what was going on.

  1. I have random, and somewhat useless, accumulations of things that are not benefitting me.
  2. These random and somewhat useless things were escaping detection and therefore not being purged.
  3. I couldn’t adequately explain where it all came from.

Doing a massive purge of the things in my apartment was cathartic, but I quickly realized how difficult this task would be to replicate with my digital items.  Once stuff is digital it’s a lot easier to accumulate and it often escapes detection a lot longer. And then I just don’t care as much because the end result is not always that obvious or gratifying.

When I cleaned out my apartment I could visibly see more space and less piles of clutter in the corners.  This made me feel positive and productive.  But to spend time performing the same type of cleanup with my digital items just doesn’t feel the same. Sure it’s nice to have everything look neat on my desktop and be easily retrievable, but that’s how most of my stuff is anyway.  I guess it doesn’t feel the same because the space created isn’t visible and doesn’t matter since storage is so cheap.

As for the pillowcases, I kept 6 pairs, 4 of which belonged with sheet sets, 1 special pair for the tempurpedic pillows, and 1 extra set because I liked it. The remaining 7 were all donated.