visual world

Tuesday, December 16, 2003, at 07:35AM

By Eric Richardson

I'm debating whether to get a camera phone. Cingular called me a month or two ago and said I was eligible for a free upgrade (obviously conditional on signing a new contract... my two years were up close to a year ago), so the thought's been kicking around my head for a while now.

Read on to hear my thoughts on digital cameras, camera phones, blogs, and visual culture...

Now, the obvious question is, why go to a camera phone when the pictures are only like 640x480? I've wrestled with the digital camera issue a lot. I'm a very digital person, and a bit of a gadget one at that, so why don't I already have one? Basically, because I don't like them. No, I'm not a purist who thinks film necessarily looks better. The convenience of digital is amazing. But what I can't stand is the lack of control. I'm not going to spend several hundred dollars on something that gives me the exposed controls of a $20 point and shoot. I abhor menus. I refuse to go three levels deep to get at my manual focus and exposure. I grew up shooting a 35mm SLR. I want everything at my fingertips, with knobs and dials and whatnot.

That's starting to come. The Canon Digital Rebel is the camera I've wanted but didn't yet exist. It's the first digital SLR to break the $1000 mark. Right now with lense it's running about $900. When that camera hits $500 I'm all over it.

But that's not right now. Right now I want a camera that I'll have with me for those random things like the pole I saw the other day with five different overlapping and even repeating temporary no parking signs. I want to take shots of the bands that I see, the people I hang out with, and the places I go.

I don't know what the modern world considers a "blog" to be. On November 30, 1998, I lauched the basis of this site. I had a site before, and had probably done a bit of similar stuff there, but to be honest that was long enough ago that I really don't remember. But now in late 1998 I wrote myself a news script. I was going to write "what I'm working on, what I'm thinking, etc." Rebecca Blood's 2000 weblogs: a history and perspective theorizes that this style of blog became popular along with the release of blogger in mid-1999. I don't know. I was never really a part of that whole scene. I was just a kid writing crap that was on my mind.

That's still what this is, me writing crap that on my mind. The two things that amazes me most as I look back through five years of the best record I have of my life is a) how much I've changed, and b) how little I've changed. Sure, my site looks different and the locations have changed, but in 1998 I was complaining about web browsers, in 2000 I was complaining about browsers, and in 2003 I'm still complaining about browsers.

I can look back at just about every post on this site and give you the context in which I wrote it. That fascinates me. I think I'm probably the only person who ever really reads this thing, but that doesn't matter. I write today not just for whoever might happen to run across this page and have it help them find a band or solve a computer problem, but more importantly I write this for me. This is as close as there might ever be to being a log of my life.

But today's culture is visual. Society revolves around images, and so to do our lives. How can an accurate archive of a life not have images? Moreso every day writing is just words about an experience while the images give a taste of the experience itself. It's not the quality that matters, it's that little slice of the moment we're able to bottle up and loose every time we take a great photograph.

Evan Nisselson wrote a fascinating piece on why camera phones will revolutionize the photography industry. About halfway down he has this conversation snippet by Bob Goldstein:

And I’ll tell you something. When you said the quality was horrible, I’ve got to tell you – and part of it is I’m used to the palm-cam and all the rest of it – but in terms of you sending me a little what we would call a modern snapshot, several of the pictures, especially the first one that I looked at of the guy and the dog, I mean, the quality was completely acceptable considering, first of all, that it’s first generation, but also considering what it is. You’re sending me your impression of a moment on the street. And that was completely transmitted to me. I didn’t look at it and wonder what it was; I looked at it and went, wow.

That's the power of a camera phone. The ability to be there all the time. The ability to capture the little everyday things that we see and that touch us every day but that we don't otherwise have the capacity to document.

And that's why I think I'll probably get one.