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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Watching the world through a screen

casual cellphone
Too often we seem to be interacting with devices rather than each other and the world. — Postmedia file photo

There is, for some reason, a small HD camera that parents can attach to their infants to collect their infant’s view of the world. Babeyes is an interesting concept, for anyone who’s always wanted to the be star of their own personal show.

Here’s some information from the website: “Babeyes records, analyzes, classifies and saves forever the first moments of a baby’s life (from the baby’s point of view). …The unique Babeyes interface will then classify all these sequences according to the person on the video, the emotion detected. ... Parents will finally be able to use the Babeyes secured cloud as their baby’s digital memory.”

I’m just going to stop there.

I’m not going to say anything about surveillance culture, the early use of in-home facial recognition software or anything like that. No jokes about little brother in the crib being Big Brother the whole time.

No, I’m just going to talk about memories. And GPS. And other things like that.

I sometimes think we now spend more time recording things than we do actually experiencing them completely. I mean, like everyone else who’s gotten addicted to carrying a smart phone, I’m delighted to be able to capture a high-definition, high-quality photograph in seconds — and because of that, I take more pictures than I used to. Social media has meant that we get to share those photographs — from the mundane to the marvellous to the terrifying — with the world, if we like (or if we don’t understand how privacy settings work).

If you’re watching your favourite band live, but through the screen of your cellphone as you record the concert, are you really actually experiencing it?

It’s wonderful to be able to receive an instant message of a moment or two from a distant grandchild’s life, or to be able to refresh a memory with a quick spin through a set of vacation shots. But surely every wonder of the world is beamed at you so constantly now that you’re ill-prepared to see wonder in something as simple as the repeated pattern of green moss.

But then I think about GPS. I’ve known people who use GPS faithfully, even on something as simple as trips to stores that they go to infrequently; the surprise to me is that the route they take every time can fail to imprint in any real way on their memories despite the number of times they make the trip. I’ve seen people as close to lost as they were the very first time they took the trip.

I don’t think human brains are stupid; I think, quite rightly, if a brain is just handed information at the press of a button, there’s really no reason to store it up there in the grey squishy stuff. Albert Einstein would agree. He quite famously said that you should “Never memorize something that you can look up,” so why remember the directions to the grocery store if a machine can do it for you?

Remembering — mapping a route in your head — may not be much work, but it is work.

So what happens if you subcontract your memory of your child to your clip-on HD camera? I’m sure you might eventually collect something spectacular. But at the same time, safe in the knowledge that all things are being recorded, you might not take the time to fully experience them.

If you’re watching your favourite band live, but through the screen of your cellphone as you record the concert, are you really actually experiencing it? If you know you’re being constantly recorded by your infant, do you spend more or less time worrying about how you look on screen?

Oh, and Einstein also said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”

Even if his camera’s on.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.


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