Seeing

When Emily was born, I bought a video camera.

(We really couldn’t afford it at the time but I told myself that we couldn’t afford to miss a thing as Emily said her first words, took her first steps, played with her first friends . . . but I’m getting off track here.)

It was one of those Sony Camcorders that took the compact tapes which allowed us to record for about an hour before we had to copy it off to a normal VHS video cassette. It had a small black-and-white viewfinder which let you see what you recording and how well your subject was in focus.

janeI remember driving in the country one day while Vicki was filming the beautiful scenery. Looking over to the left, I saw a stunning display of what we call here ‘Salvation Jane”–a mass of purple covering field after field in the Adelaide Hills.

“Wow! That is amazing! Look at all that beautiful purple.” I said to the videographer to my left.

“It’s not purple,” she declared quite matter-of-factly. Then, realising what she said, she dropped the camera and we both realised that she had been looking only through the small, monochrome viewfinder. In closing her other eye, she totally couldn’t see the beauty that was purple-covered hills in the summer sun.

How often do we miss the beauty of the world around us, the details of life, the amazing things passing by because we fail to look beyond our small, low-res viewfinder that is created by our environment, our traditions, our worldview, our beliefs?

How often do we close our eyes because we’re straining to catch the perfect shot, or make sure we aren’t missing out on what’s happening in that small window in front of our eye?

Last night as I was driving down the hill towards home, I witnessed the most amazing sunset. The sun was a perfect, huge orange ball and it ever-so-slowly settled into the sea beyond the harbour, I was breathless and speechless at the same time. It was awe inspiring?

My first instinct was to pull out my phone to capture this moment on the little 5″ screen.

But then I remembered the purple fields and how easy it is not to see when you let capturing the moment get in the way of the experience.

So I sat, watching until the fiery ball dropped below the horizon and the bright orange sky turned pink, then purple, then hazy blue, grey, then black.

No, I can’t show you a photo of that sunset. To be honest, you’ve seen enough of these anyway.

If I were to tell you about it, however, you would see my eyes light up and I would get quite emotional as I did my best to share this moment with you.

And that’s something that technology cannot replicate.

And that’s why we need sometimes–often–to ditch the tech and soak in all the wonder we can. Because what life is all about cannot be contained in a memory card, or on a tape.

Stories

Oldthings

I just bought myself a typewriter.

“Seriously? Aren’t you the gadget guy?” you might ask. “Is this replacing your iPad?” (Ha ha. Very funny.)

When I recently visited my parents, I got into a conversation with my mum about her computer. She seems to have never-ending struggles with technology and it so happens I am her resident IT guy.

“I wish I had kept my old typewriter,” she told me, after another troubleshooting session on her seemingly-invalid PC.

I asked her why, with all the features of her new computer, she would want to go back to an old, cumbersome, temperamental beast like a typewriter.

So begun the litany of reasons.

In the end, it wasn’t so much about the computer, nor about its tech-unfriendly operator. It was about what the typewriter represented: a simpler, more straightforward time when no new operating system needed to be learned, no ‘shortcuts’ had to be memorised, and to ‘save’ something you typed it with carbon paper and filed the copy away in the beat-up steel filing cabinet next to your desk.

And the stories!

SctypeHer Smith Corona (similar to the one pictured) had years of history. She had bought it in the States in 1971 and it had travelled with us to Australia. On it she had recorded years of conversations to and from grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and extended family. No doubt every milestone in the life of our growing family had found its way through the keys to be clunk-clunked on to ‘onionskin’ paper (This translucent paper was apparently lighter in weight than standard bond paper and so she could include many more pages in the letter and still pay standard postage.)

Dad used it to type out his sermons and the occasional letter to his brother. I never asked him why he used a typewriter because it was obvious: nobody–not even himself, I think–could read his handwritten scrawl!

The familiar ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ of the typewriter, the ‘ding’ from the little bell that signified the end of a line and the ‘z-i-i-i-p’ sound the carriage made as you flicked the carriage return lever to start a new line echoed through our house every day, providing a semi-rhythmical soundtrack to our family’s life.

When the Smith Corona’s keys had become so misaligned and its carriage started being cantankerous in its desire to let go of the paper at inopportune times, mum invested in an electric typewriter. Later, that was replaced with a Brother ‘Word Processor,’ and, finally, with a computer and printer.

The old things were thrown out, sold, or given to Goodwill to make way for the new, high-tech machines and the accompanying angst in learning new ways of doing stuff.

I reckon it’s amusing to see how we don’t seem to attach the same value to the new things as we did the old things.

They don’t seem to invoke in us the same feelings of nostalgia, the yearning for the days when life was simpler and when things were manufactured to do one job and to last for years. They don’t seem to tell the same stories we hear recited from the memory of things like manual typewriters, inky ribbons and rows of life stamped out on see-through paper.

Typewriters, books, LP records, mum’s ‘special’ china, keepsakes and even fragrances bring back to us a myriad of tales–myths and legends, epics and anecdotes alike–cascading through our minds about who we were and, ultimately, who we became who we are now.

I think about this as I type on my eBay trophy short, thought-provoking sayings–the kind of which can be found on the Instagram pages of most hipsters these days. I recall with fondness a life that was less complicated (I say this as I figure out–ironically using a YouTube video–how to insert a new $10 ribbon, which I had to source from the UK and get ink all over everything.)

And I think I’ve found the answer why older folks tend to hang on to the stuff from their life a lot longer than the next generation believes to be practical: It’s the stories they hold. And I’m finding, as I get older, my memory needs all the help it can get.

 

#Nasuli

I am still amazed at the wonders of technology.

You may say that statement dates me as one who is ‘older’ and perhaps not up-to-speed with the marvels of electronic gadgetry and the like.

Au contraire! I am well-known for my love of gadgets and my fascination with all things that buzz, whistle, flash and hum.

keyboardBut I still stand in wonder at how I can see something happening around the world instantly, how I can listen to a song streaming from a server thousands of miles away as if I’m sitting in a concert hall in front of a full orchestra, how I can communicate with friends and see their face on Skype any time of the day or night.

Technology shrinks our world and brings into our life places and people from across the span of our lives: memories, sounds, videos, pictures, smells . . .

Smells? Well, not exactly. But sometimes I can almost smell and feel as if I have been magically transported back to a prior time in my life. So powerful is the sense I perceive as I leaf through these memory-triggers.

Nasuli is one such place.

I have fond memories of holidaying here with my family when I was quite young. We stayed in a guesthouse which, from memory, was on the grounds of a MAF mission base in the city of my birth: Malaybulay in the province of Bukidnon in the Philippines.

Rambutan trees with ants crawling all over them. Once you peeled off the ants and then the spiny skin, the fruit was delicious.

Houses whose walls were made of some sort of woven bamboo.

The American church where they had a real choir and a pastor who wore robes ( and where I first heard the amazing hymn This is My Father’s World.)

King Roly Poly. (OK. It was a book I found in the toy box where we were staying. He was so fat they had to build special furniture for him and a special table with a cut out for his stomach. Talk about politically incorrect! But we were children of the 60s.)

And then there was the spring.

nasuliCool water. Deep. Calm. Surrounded by trees that smelled musty, like the flowers of what we call a mavis bush.

I loved the spring. In my tyre-tube I would happily float around for hours. I even would venture to the other side where there were reeds and where ( so I was told) they would find water snakes.

I didn’t care. The cool water around me and the safety of my tyre-tube flotation device was enough.

I still love floating in water. Pool, beach, river . . . don’t really care. I think I thrive in that sense of calm and flow.

“So what does Nasuli have to do with technology?”

I’m glad you ask.

I was on Instagram the other day and one of the folks I followed posted a photo of a bus on the way to #Malaybulay (those of you who get the hashtag know where this story is going).

So I went to ‘Discover’ and searched on #Malaybulay. I came across quite a few photos of #Nasuli, some of them geotagged ‘Nasuli Spring.’

I followed the links, found the photos, was redirected to Google Earth and discovered myself back in the late 60s under sunny skies, floating in the peaceful, cool spring water straight from the central Mindanao mountains.

How an iPad can bring to my mind the smell of a mavis bush, the feeling of cool, clear water on a hot day, and the security of my tyre-tube (that apparently protects me from even the snakes), amazes me.

braintechI would imagine this is another incredible element of my humanity that takes an image of a place and recalls instantly everything of my life–good or not so–that relates to that location. I would go so far as to say this is our natural technology, our created memory system that, miraculously, transports us in time and space to places that have come to define who we are.

I would suggest that this inbuilt, intuitive and infinitely capable technology is far superior to any gadget, gizmo or thingamajig I could ever get my hands on.

Back to the Future?

Wow! What creativity flows from some people! I am impressed by the olde worlde charm of one Datamancer who re-creates the old-fashioned timeless look with state-of-the-art computer components.

‘Steampunk’ laptop computer (Genuine HP internals)
Not that I’m an antique buff or love the “retro” (if by that you mean the 1890s) look, but I would love to have one of these. This is not to say I reject my iPad and my Acer Notebook. It just seems more ‘special’ to have the stamp of history on something. Perhaps it makes it look more solid, permanent, timeless, long-lasting. Regardless, I don’t think I’ll be getting a Steampunk anytime in the near future (unless the ‘Lotto gods’ smile on me?), but it doesn’t hurt to dream.
The ‘Clacker’

For those of you who don’t like the laptop feel, maybe you can go for the full desktop treatment. The ‘Clacker’ is a prototype, but pre-orders are being taken, so get in quick because with such post-contemporary styling, they’re bound to be snapped up!

FOMO

I was listening to Triple J on the drive home last night and Liam Finn (nephew of Neil Finn of Crowded House fame) was a guest on the show. He was introducing his latest album, FOMO, which, he said, was filled with songs written from a perspective of his own life and the pressure he felt when returning to New Zealand from his busy concert and recording period abroad.

He found that, while being away from the high-tech, high-speed life of the big city was good for him in a recharge/refresh sense, he would go to bed and sleep would escape him because he had become so accustomed  to doing things, going places, and seeing people every day. He had become fearful of missing out on life . Hence the title of his album is an acronym for “Fear of Missing Out.”

I wonder if that is the reason why this generation has taken to social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr.  Afraid we might miss out on something, we have tied ourselves to checking our mobile phones or computer screens all too frequently to see what our friends (or twiends!) are up to, who they’re with, where they are, and what they’re feeling. Then we must update our status to let them know the same about us. When we’re not “connected” we feel like we’re missing out in some way on what’s happening in our world.

Many people do this in other ways: being engrossed in hearing or reading the latest news from CNN, NineMSN or NewsRadio. Some feel compelled to keep track of sport or weather. Media outlets dedicated to keeping the public informed  rely on this for their livelihood every day. Maybe a story will break and I won’t know because I didn’t subscribe to the right RSS feed, turned off the TV or radio, or check in on the website that has all the latest details and video footage. . . .

How much does FOMO keep you and I from enjoying—genuinely relishing—the present moment? Does this FOMO make us jealous? Anxious? Envious of someone else’s lot in life at the moment? When we update our status, are we unconsciously attempting to paint our life so our friends will think they’re missing out on something?

Last night I made a decision to take a leave-of-absence from Facebook for a while. Those who know me know that I am a frequent user and, often, it may seem that I’m addicted. So I thought I’d see what happens if I make a break for a time. Some things may still appear on my Facebook status (like these blog post links and places I visit/like on the web), but I won’t be checking my messages, updating my status, or looking at anyone else’s status or pages for a while. I’m not sure how long this experiment will last—it may well result in my leaving the social media altogether. Regardless, I’m hoping it will bring some much-needed perspective and help me to spend time on areas of my life where right now I can see I’m missing out.

I’m not saying this is something we all should embrace, but for me I need to cast out the demon of FOMO and live in the moment, every moment.

Liam Finn mentioned on his interview that, while he got over this fear of missing out, this episode in his life brought the present into focus in a more real and meaningful way. To some extent, I think that’s something we all need.