It has been speculated that we live in an era which represents the apotheosis of pictorial culture, awash with images, immersed in the perspectives of perspective. Prof Jim Flynn considers this to be one possible cause of the apparent secular rise in intelligence (the Flynn effect) as countries engage in modernity. Certainly, in contrast with even a century ago, we have easy access to photographs. Books no longer boast of having “twelve black and white photographic plates”. We have got over the shock of colour photography, and expect every magazine to be full of photographs. Even the word “photograph” is falling out of usage. “Images” suffice.
We have become image-sophisticated. In retrospect, this came about by means of many technologies, but digital photography has led to a breakthrough. Almost everyone has access to a camera, and over a billion carry a camera equivalent with them at all times.
What are the consequences? First, most photo-reportage is done by people on the scene. Can you imagine bothering to send out a photographer when passers by are transmitting live feeds of the earthquake? Now we get photos of the interiors of planes moments after they have crashed. Second, it is harder to black out and ignore an event. A drunk falling to the ground and injuring himself can be ignored. Accidents happen. A policeman, in great irritation, lashing out at the drunk can be caught on camera. Factor in security cameras, and in urban settings we are on camera much of the time. On balance, it might be a good thing.
Now xkcd.com/1235/ draws attention to another phenomenon:
I assume this general observation should hold true of the Loch Ness monster, the Beast of Bodmin and other associated British photographic pranks.
However, what if these “flying saucer” events are of very short duration? I would assume that very advanced inter-stellar explorers would probably have fast moving space ships. (Why, given these speedy vehicles, they should travel across the vast immensities of space specifically to fiddle with the genitalia of American matrons is beyond me.) By way of comparison, in all my years of watching experimental planes coming in to land at Boscombe Down (an airfield at which experimental planes are taken for test flights) I have never managed to photograph one of them.
So, should the ubiquity of cameras need to be corrected for the sluggishness of camera users, rather like the way Carl Sagan controlled for the Drake equation (used to estimate the number of active, communicative extra-terrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy) by calculating how many civilizations would have blown themselves up in their “technological adolescence”? (Sagan was pleased to hear what an impact that phrase had on his listeners). I think a correction is necessary.
I could not time it exactly, but I think it usually takes me at least 30 seconds between seeing something I feel I must photograph and getting a photo of it, or of the remains of it. I cannot time this exactly, because my only stopwatch is an application on the same device which has the camera.
As a consequence of fiddling with the iPhone, and trying to keep an eye on my watch as I did so I finally worked out how to use the little camera pictogram, and can now open my camera more quickly. (You may estimate my performance IQ by this admission).
I now stand poised to record extraordinary events of very short duration.
Thank you xkcd.com