Images in the Future

My collection of photos, postcards and stereoscope pictures have served as a reference and inspiration for my stories about the Great War. I also have a collection of my own time in the service, which I regularly look through. At the same time, the thousands of pictures I’ve taken with my digital cameras and phone are rarely looked at unless I am searching for a specific image.

With everyone carrying cameras with their phones and chronicling their lives with social media, there is the possibility of recording almost every moment of life. This is the premise of Dave Eggers’ two novels, The Circle and The Every. According to my students that are veterans, the same occurs in combat zones (creating an operational security nightmare, I’m sure). I asked if they ever looked back at the pictures (which they can access on their phones at any time), and most said no. Not because of the images’ subject matter; it just doesn’t occur to them.

Changing phones, computers or just memory errors can lose all these photos. Even if you are backed up to a cloud account, change accounts or subscription to a backup service, and you may no longer have those pictures.

More important is how few people catalog those photos. I’ll admit that I don’t catalog outside of downloading after hikes or events and labeling the folder; I don’t catalog. I suspect most people don’t. Even in my family, it is not done except for my son, a photography hobbyist. Meanwhile, I can look at the shelf of my photo albums. Each is labeled with dates and pages with flat memorabilia like programs, tickets, and photos. I can remember going through my parents’ albums and telling me the stories of their lives.

This brings me to the question – will future historians and writers have this treasure at their fingers when recounting the past?

That is why I leave you with this suggestion. Do what you did when you were younger (if you are my age) or what your parents did – print the pictures, label them and put them in an album.

I am not a number

Growing up, my favorite show was The Prisoner. The import from England had the tagline, “I am not a number. I am a free man.” Unfortunately, if Number Six were around today, he would find he is a number. Or, more correctly, a set of numbers.

Statistics and algorithms have become the defining element of the early 21st century. We can and do collect data about every part of our lives, so we do. Between smartwatches and smartphones, we measure our lives n more ways than we can count (yes, that was intended). The ease of technology comes at the cost of being reduced to a data set.

  • My truck records how many miles and how many hours I have driven.
  • Grammarly keeps track of every word I write and sends a report at the beginning of the week (which informs me I still don’t know how to use a comma).
  • Fitness apps track workouts, calories, and minutes.
  • Even meditation apps ask you to track your mood and the number of times in a row that you have spent time meditating.

Dave Eggers takes this on in his recent The Every, but as outrageous as parts of it may seem, you realize that it is already here (or will be soon).

Even if you try and live in an analog world with paper and pen, users of bullet journals are encouraged to track their habits, exercise, sleep and anything else that ‘they really care about.’ Writing advice to write every day is accompanied by charts and spreadsheets to measure how many words, time, or days in a row you have spent writing. Readers are encouraged to keep track and rate through sites like Goodreads (“Goodbye Goodreads”)

I will not start in the way that statistics have dominated research in social sciences. But, unfortunately, it seems that the ‘quantoids’ have won the battle, so those of us that prefer the deep methodology of cases and history are relegated to academia’s backwaters.

Rather than “Dry January,” I am starting on ‘No Count New Year’ to escape from the tyranny of trackers. So this month, I am focusing on what I need to count and why? I don’t know where this will lead, but I hope it will be a humanistic way to live my life.

Goodbye Goodreads

After five years and over 950 books logged, yesterday I said goodbye to Goodreads. That is to say; I closed my account.

I am not anti-Goodreads. It was enjoyable and probably a good tool for those who want to increase the number of books they read. However, that is not a problem I have ever had. Even on field problems, I brought books. This included the footlocker worth I shipped to a six-month overseas deployment.

No, my reasons are personal

  1. I was reading for speed. Rather than enjoy a novel, I tried to read it as quickly as possible to add it to my count. This also led to –
  2. Reviewing while I read. Because Goodreads asks you to rate and review everything you read, I found myself composing comments that some readers would find intriguing and inciteful. Worse yet was being asked to rate escapist novels. It was like rating junk food.
  3. I have a very eclectic reading list ranging from serious nonfiction in security studies (my field of teaching) to historical fiction to lighthearted urban and romantic fantasy (thank you, Hailey Edwards and Kristen Painter). So, getting recommendations from other readers or Goodreads was not necessary. My ‘To Be Read’ list is already double column, page long.
  4. Finally, I was motivated to finish books that I would generally have put down so that I would not ‘waste’ my reading or have to put them on my ‘Did Not Finish’ list.

This does not mean I have slowed down my reading, nor does it mean I will not rejoin in the future. But for now, it is me, a book, and a snack in my love seat with no one overlooking my shoulder.

HAPPY READING TO ALL IN THE NEW YEAR!

Reading Month is Almost Over...Now What? | Edmentum Blog

Writing Space

My YouTube feed has been showing these videos about authors’ workspaces (Writers and Their Writing Desks. There was no ‘typical’ set-up and while I was jealous of the large offices with fantastic panoramas, I smiled when I saw that Stephen King worked in an attic and Ray Bradbury (one of my favorites) worked what looked like an unfinished basement.

Which is exactly where I write – an unheated corner of the basement with heating ducts (top of picture) and water pipes (just in view on the left side). It is also my office as a university lecturer and with repeated transitions to remote learning, my teaching podium.

The desk itself is what is left of a computer desk bought in the 1980s. It was unfinished lumber, but now has a patina of spilled coffee, various ink explosions, and the sheen you get from decades of human contact. The left side is for writing and drawing with an array of fountain pens and colored pencils at hand. My laptop is in the middle with my planner (still handwritten) and notepad on the right. Inspiration for my historical fiction comes from the framed magazine pages on the wall (it separates me from our crawlspace).

On the other side of the footlocker (which doubles as an armoire), are my references. These range from the modern to memoirs and manuals published during and immediately after the war. The prize in this collection is a bound set of The Stars and Stripes newspaper. Additional inspiration comes from the collection of postcards and trench art.

Not pictured is the Carhartt blanket that keeps me warm as I write.

So that’s my space. If you are a writer, I would like to see where you write.