P recently dusted off an old Fuji camera he bought when it first came out a few years ago. He still has two good lenses for it, so he thought it might work fine with a just few firmware updates. We had a late lunch planned for last Friday at a place by the seaside that had only just opened last spring, so it was a good chance to try the camera then. He took pictures of the sea, the dune grasses, and me.
When we got home and looked at the photos, I wasn’t convinced that the camera was working properly after all. The shots had a soft tinge to them, soft edges around the clouds and the sea, everything artfully out of focus except for me. P assured me that it was working, and that this is the way actual cameras capture images (DSLRs, at least), with the edges of life softened out a little. He said that I was so used to looking at phone photos that I’d forgotten what they (and maybe the world?) really looked like. I compared them to the photographs on my phone roll and saw how heightened they were. Rather than having a natural focal point and everything else softly bokehed in the background, everything was in sharp focus, everything was heightened and it was difficult to know where to look.
It made me think about what other types of distortion our phones might cast over our lives and all the ways this distortion affects how we see ourselves and the world.
I came across an article in Harper’s recently on the anxiety of influencers and paused at this thought: “As our culture continues to conflate the private and public realms—as the pandemic has transformed our homes into offices and our bedrooms into backdrops, as public institutions increasingly fall prey to the mandates of the market—we’ve become cheerfully indentured to the idea that our worth as individuals isn’t our personal integrity or sense of virtue, but our ability to advertise our relevance on the platforms of multinational tech corporations.”
P was watching a Jack White interview yesterday and one of the things that came up was that he (White) didn’t have a a phone. This bit caught my attention, so I stopped what I was doing to watch along for a moment and what I noticed was that he seemed to be very present, calm and relaxed, and couldn’t help but wonder if this was the result of not having a phone.
It’s definitely something interesting to think about, and it appears I’m not the only one. There has been a growing interest in outdated tech with celebrities and fashionistas wearing wired headphones instead of AirPods and deliberately not keeping up with the latest iPhone (or not having one at all à la Jack White). It’s the same reason that Millennials have been obsessed with polaroids and disposable cameras since the 2010s. On TikTok there’s also a movement toward retro tech and the 90’s tech aesthetic, and vintage tech nostalgia as a means of escaping toxic social media. Here, you can find a fondness for late-nineties colourful iMacs and phone cases that make your iPhone look like a 2005 pink Motorola RAZR V3.
Of course, I am too far gone to give up my phone at this point, but I can’t say that I haven’t been tempted to get a flip phone for summer and take a break from it all, at least for a little while…