Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Looking and thinking

click photo to enlarge
Recently I was talking with my wife about what people used to do in the days before mobile phones. Today, it seems, many people spend a large amount of their walking time either talking on them, texting from them, or checking them. It's impossible to go down a street these days without passing people speaking into their phone, or poking its buttons. So, the question that arose in my mind was, "What have people stopped doing, as they walk about, that they used to do before mobile phones filled so much of that time?" And the answer I came up with was, "Looking and thinking."

Now you might argue that many people were doing very little with that sort of time in the past: that walking around a town was dead time, because the imperative was to get from A to B, and the mobile phone now fills it with something more meaningful. However, I don't buy into that theory. The snippets of conversations that I overhear are mainly chit-chat, the passing of the time of day, so not deeply significant. Moreover, people who engage in this kind of talk by mobile phone are likely to do it face to face too. So, the ability to chat anywhere at any time must have increased the amount of this sort of casual conversation. And that is likely, I think, to have been at the expense of looking and thinking.

One of my favourite Henry David Thoreau sayings (that I've quoted before) is, "What is a course of history, or philosophy, or poetry, no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen?" And he might have added, "and reflecting on it." In our busy world, where everyone wants a slice of our time, the ability to look and think must be jealously guarded because it helps to make us who we are, and to make sense of our world. There are so many people, politicians, media, advertisers, etc. who tell us what to look at, and what to think, that the ability and time to do these two things for ourselves is something we should cherish. If the mobile phone deprives us of that time then perhaps it needs putting in its place.

I guess today's reflection marks me out as one of the older generation, to which I plead guilty. However, one of the benefits of age is perspective; the ability to see recent developments in context, and to make more informed judgements of them. Well, that's my defence anyway! Today's photograph was taken as I was looking and thinking in my sister's garden. I peered into this plant, felt like I was looking into infinity, and took this shot of it!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.5
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On