Letter to the Editor

You’ve gone on a vacation with a bunch of friends. Each of you has taken a gazillion pics, posted the best few on Flickr and shared it with the group. While browsing through the collection, you realize… that’s a good one, but hey, I was there in that same place, I took a photo at the same time… how come I didn’t see that?

Is it because your friend had a few megapixels extra, or a faster lens? Let’s extrapolate the galloping advances in optics, CCDs and storage to the point where you have a camera which can take continuous 24fps ultra-high resolution pics of everything you see, so that at the end of your vacation, you have a complete digital recording of everything you ever saw. Would that be a good thing?

Of course not. Sitting through somebody else’s vacation home video is the second deadliest form of torture (the first, of course, being an Indian Wedding Video, with accompanying voice-overs about unke mause ke chachere bhai), because so few bother to edit the video.

Which brings me finally to my point: Editing is one of the prime functions of the brain. Like shellfish unfurling their fan-like appendages to strain bits of food from the flow of water, the brain has evolved to pick out interesting bits from the raw wash of sense data. To pick that one instant, that particular subject, that particular angle, that particular framing, is one of the highest expressions of this skill. Photography is all about editing. All that bull about megapixels and lenses and F numbers is just nonsense – you can take interesting pictures with a point-and-shoot and Patel shots with a Nikon D300.

At least, that’s what I tell myself when I see the $@#% price tags on those $@!% lenses. I bet they taste sour, too.


3 responses to “Letter to the Editor

  1. The skywatcher’s analogue would be in skilled hands, a 70mm refractor can beat the crap out of a 12″ light bucket Dob. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I look at the effin price tags 😉

  2. reminds me of the extended discussion of orwellian vs stalinist memory models in dennett’s ‘how the mind works.’ you don’t need to get to cameras… our own senses produce enough of a raw bit rate to kill us if we actually had to process the crap we experience. the 2 models are — we experience truth and store revisionist, or we experience convenient untruths in the first place. as i believe i wrote at some point, we actually seem to do the latter.

    the interesting thing about this is that any lossy compression scheme is an implicit model of reality, and like all models, is optimized for particular purposes. we seem to optimize for survivability and happiness, in that order. notions of truth are probably 8th in priority or something.

    there was that guy, forget his name, who actually tried to become cybernetic by carrying cameras around all day and logging his life. DARPA sponsored a lifelog project which caused an outcry and was dropped. and now we have all those stream mashups allowing you to do close to that; feeding your life into facebook.

    editing is the need of the day of course, but I think wisdom-of-crowds editing works reasonably well as a first-pass filter.

  3. There do appear to be a few mutants of the Funes-the-Memorious type, who can remember everything in painful, vivid detail.

    Yup, objective truth gets in the way of too many things for it to be a priority 🙂

    But I’m pretty sure that a combination of trusted computing, signed code, ubiquitous cellphone-cameras, high speed wireless networks will unfold a goldfish bowl dystopia soon. You won’t be able to get car insurance without installing one of those things.

    “Automatic editors” are going to be needed to analyze and index the insane amounts of video – all that machine vision research is getting another killer use case. You don’t need to keep the raw data around – take a leaf from the brain and just compress it to stick figures with labels.

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