The Worst Thing To Happen To Photography Since Instagram
Some months ago I read about a camera that has no real selective focus. Supposedly, it was a camera that would allow you to shift the main focus of the image between the foreground and the background after the image was taken. A computer program aids in this process after the fact, allowing you to make these shifts. Upon reading this, I imagined that this technology was a ways out in the future, but it appears as if it’s already here.
Enter: The Lytro. It’s basically a computer with an aperture on one end and an LCD on the other. It takes no real knowledge to use, requiring only the ability to aim and push a button. The experience is focused on the amateur, the tech nerd, and those who are embedded in online sharing. To quote Entrepreneur Magazine, the experience “was a one-handed affair, requiring no focus, zoom, or flash–just aim and press the shutter….” My heart sank as I read this article on the plane ride back into LA. Fucking A.
You can teach a robot or a computer to do about anything. Make eggs. Vacuum your living room. Build cars. Write articles. Make paintings. Compose music. And that’s really cool and all, I definitely get the WOW factor of watching a machine do something that seems so complex. The very idea of artificial intelligence somehow grasping something like art or music or cooking bends the lines between human and machine and that has captivated human consciousness since before the steam engine. Being obsessed with ourselves like we are, creating a machine in our likeness seems like the logical next step.
The problem with art by machines is this: it’s completely soul-less. It lacks vision. It lacks history. It lacks the failure of the years of trial and error prior. It lacks the fear we feel when we’ve made something great and wonder if that was the last great thing we’ll ever make.
Would I eat an omelet made by a robot? Oh hell yes! And I’d tweet about it and take a photo with my cellphone and I’d think it was cool for a couple days and then I’d forget about it. It’s a gimmick, a trick, a way to get people excited about something that isn’t anything. The moment is interesting, the memory is forgettable. I had a professor who used to say that “Huh? Wow!” was way better than “Wow! Huh?” He meant that it was better to create something that people didn’t understand at first glance but rather took time to process. The alternative was being impressed at first, and then realizing you were duped.
Instagram is duping us. The Lytro is duping us. Taking the guesswork out of artistic creation doesn’t benefit humanity. In fact, quite the opposite. There is more value in failure than in instant and constant success. Our obsession with attention, immediacy and our “Like” count is on the verge of rendering us talentless and dull. We aren’t taking risks. We’re relying too heavily on bogus machines that are the tech equivalent of Cheetos. They taste so good. No intrinsic value.
Throughout the industrial revolution there were literally thousands of inventions created that fizzled out and bombed or never even saw the light of day. It’s simply not necessary to embrace and dryhump every single “advancement” made. Technology is fun and cool and I’m all for it, but have you ever said “OMG look at that hot guy/girl on that Segway?” Remember that when someone points a Lytro tube at you. Here’s Data rapping about cats.