India Uncut

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Watching ourselves live

Jason Fry writes in the Wall Street Journal (can't find the link online, I'm afraid; it's subs. anyway):
Like most doting parents, my wife and I love to take pictures of our three-year-old son. Like most toddlers, our son loves to look at pictures of himself.

The combination of the two has been responsible for countless boring slide shows over the generations. But here's a new wrinkle: We have a digital camera. Now, it's all too common for Joshua to notice the flash, instantly stop playing with Lego or swatting baseballs or romping on the jungle gym, and ask to see the picture.

It's infuriating: My kid stops playing to look at a picture of himself playing. Worse, I know where he learned it -- because, I'm embarrassed to admit, I do it too.

Last month, during a beach vacation, I caught myself flipping through pictures taken just minutes or hours before, with friends and family in the same room. I stopped, horrified, only to find myself doing the same thing the next night. How did I spend my vacation? In part, by reviewing that same vacation while it was in progress.
Yes, sometimes we do need to learn to leave technology behind. For example, my laptop gave up on me a few days ago, and until I buy a new one -- having decided on a Lenovo, I'm now looking for a good dealer -- I'm restricted to blogging from office. Now, blogging, or at least surfing and reading a lot, was what I regularly did every night before going to bed. But now, without that option, I actually read a bit. Spend time with the partner. Watch a movie. (We saw Abbas Kiarostami's wonderful Ten last night, ten months after I got the DVD.)

Indeed, the last time I took a holiday, I wished that I could just leave my cellphone and laptop (and my cares!) behind. However, there's India Uncut, and as long as I'm writing this, I can't escape technology or be totally carefree.

Interestingly, Fry also cites blogs as one of the technologies that "tempt us to shift back and forth from living life to observing ourselves living it." He writes:
I co-write a blog about the New York Mets, and have felt this double vision at work. Watching a baseball game, I sometimes feel my blogger antennae perk up at potential turning points. I find myself rehearsing blog posts; sometimes I even write down impressions and chronicle key at-bats. Which is entertaining, but it isn't watching the game the way I did perfectly happily for nearly 30 years.
Well, yes, often the first thought that strikes me when I read pieces on the web is "Is this bloggable?" But the flipside of that is that in searching for things to blog about, I read much more than I otherwise would.

Also, it isn't just new technology that does this. In my years as a cricket journalist, whenever I watched a cricket match that I also had to write about, I watched it differently than I would as a fan. One looks hard at the details, notices patterns, files away phrases and lines for later use, and I'd be structuring my report in my head as I watched the game, both of them evolving simultaneously. That's not a result of the technology, but of the task itself.

(Article via email from Shrabonti, who asks:
Do you feel like that sometimes, as if constantly taking notes on life means you let life itself pass by? Or do you feel it enriches the experience of living because you notice things that would have just flitted past otherwise?
Well, both, I suppose. Who can tell. A writer's got to do what a writer's got to do, and I'm not sure I believe in free will when it comes to this.)
amit varma, 4:21 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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