A new etiquette for smart phone usage

Related to my last post, I saw contrasting behaviors amongst guests at a wedding I recently attended.

  1. Four people were sitting at their table, after dinner, all heads down, interacting with their smart phones and not each other.
  2. One person, isolated herself from the reception by sitting at an out-of-the-way administrative desk, was intently typing a message on her phone for several minutes.

So, again, I get that phones are important methods of connecting us with the world beyond our immediate vicinity. They are very powerful. I know not what the four people were doing in the first situation. I believe that whatever the woman in the second was doing was very important to her. Therefore, I would like to propose the following social etiquette for smart phone usage:

  • If you are amongst people who are one-degree of separation or less from your acquaintance, excuse yourself from the situation before using your phone.

The one-degree or less part is specifically designed to encourage you to expand your social circle beyond social networks. You know, IRL (ahem, in real life). If you are at an event upon common purpose, then behave like an adult for christsakes, and interact with the others around you. If, on the other hand, you have uber urgent matters that must be attended to, do not be so rude as to isolate yourself RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEIR FACES. All it takes is a demure, polite, “Oh dear, this is important” and walk-the-fuck away. If it isn’t that important, then continue to attempt to engage the others in conversation. If you’re having trouble doing that, here are about 10 million results for conversation starters.

Of course, more than one degree of separation is hard to know in any given moment. If you’re walking down a crowded street, I don’t think there is any need to excuse yourself from the sidewalk. Or on a bus. Or train. If you’re among true strangers, fine, update Facebook about the creepy dude with the big camera. He’ll be posting about you later, so its only fair.

The Resurrection of Conversation

Perhaps you’ve seen this video, or heard complaints like it–smartphones have destroyed our ability to interact with each other in person. Babycakes Romero [sic] took a bunch of pictures of people using their smart phones in public, seemingly ignoring their companions, and his gallery went viral.

One of my favorite photographers, Zack Arias, called his series De_Vice. Pictures get passed along, with plenty of guffaws on Facebook showing lines of people consumed with their smartphones. Those of us over 30 like to mock younger people for their complete immersion. We all laughed at the video showing a woman fall into a mall fountain because she was consumed by her phone.

I’m not saying the interpretations of these images are wrong, but it is entirely possible they don’t tell the whole story. Photographs don’t show the moments before or after. They don’t show what’s going on in the minds of others. Heck, 99.9% of the time, they don’t even show the screen. Allow me to add captions to Zach’s images (linked here without his consent).

From: Smith & Bennett Attorneys Subject: Case #2015-12333 The court has granted your request for a restraining order. If you see him, call 911 immediately.
I am so tired of waiting for his dad to pick him up. He better answer his damn phone.
Dude, I’m in a really tough bind. Could you spot me $200?
Refill submitted.
“Mother isn’t doing well. You should get on the next flight.”

Yes, we are at a time in our society when we are obsessed with our phones. But there is a good reason for that–they’re really fucking useful devices! We all know this, and live this every day, but for some reason, it is fun to poke fun at what we think other people are doing. Yes, some are playing games. Yes, some are “just” checking social media. But aren’t Facebook or Twitter or Google+ just evolutionary steps in how we communicate? I’ve been having conversations with people “on-line” for 30 years (I dialed into my first BBS using a 300 baud modem)–things are different now, but they’re still conversations. Are they at the expense of the people we’re with? Yes, sometimes. Am I writing this blog post on my laptop while my wife does something on her phone in the same room? Sure. Does anyone think that while we’re in the presence of other human beings that 100% of that time has be spent interacting with them?

So that’s kinda my point. These photos show moments, anecdotes, when people aren’t paying attention to “real-life”. It isn’t that simple. Real life goes on through our devices as well. And sometimes what is going on “on-line” really is more interesting/compelling/important than what is happening right next to us.

So now I’ll prove my point by presenting you with anecdotal photos showing people enjoying their time in person, no phones present. Because, believe it or not, sometimes people do that.

See what I mean!?!? No one is using phones anymore!


Adventures in Film


Friends recently handed me a pile of expired, unexposed film. I long ago sold my personal film camera, but my wife has consistently resisted that urge. She has a nice Pentax with a 50mm f/2 and a zoom lens. There’s an almost silly hipster resurgence in film but that didn’t stop me from giving it a try. I’m a fad jumper, and I don’t care. Especially when I can jump on the fad for under $20.

The fist task was to replace the batteries in the Pentax so that the light meter could actually work. Amazon to the rescue, and I now have more button cell batteries for less than it would have cost me in gas to get to a local store to pick them up.

Next I had to figure out what happens to “expired” film. I read a few articles on the interwebs, and the basic learning is that over time the chemicals on the film become less sensitive to light. How much less is a guess. Plus, high temperatures accelerate that process. My newly acquired film had been sitting in a barely temperature controlled warehouse. Who knows where it had been before that. I decided to treat the Kodak BW400CN film as if it was ISO 200 rather than ISO 400.

7I probably should have treated it like ISO 100. The pics are acceptable, nevertheless.

Anyway, I loaded the 24 exposure roll and set about looking for images that were film-worthy. And that was the first lesson: although I was eager to see some quick results, I was conscious that I had only 24 shots on the roll. I wanted every shot to have the potential for being a keeper. I wanted each shot to be, in a very 1970s way, one that I would put in a photo album…

23… until there were fireworks. While I was watching fireworks, with the Pentax close at hand, I kept thinking “It will be a total crap-shoot. You have no idea how long the shutter should be open. You have no idea how these will turn out. You can’t possibly make a decent image of fireworks on film.” Challenge accepted, says I. I tried 11 times and got three usable images. Honestly, I’m pleased I got just one since I was totally winging it: my shutter was set to bulb, and my finger controlled the speed.

3I enjoyed (at least temporarily) the process of slowing down, intentionally making pictures, and not immediately knowing how they turned out. One problem, is that I can’t see when there are potential problems in the film, such as on Nick’s chin, above.

21The second problem is that it was tough for me to see that I hadn’t obtained a sharp focus, like in the image above. Clearly this isn’t a “grab” shot. They were posed. And I set them in a line so that at f/2 I had a chance of getting them all crisp. But I blew it. The leaves on the left are sharper than their faces. This is clearly a photographer problem–I could have blown focus on this shot using a digital camera. But at least with digital I would have had the opportunity to know that I had blown it, and retake it.

There are other shortcomings with this set of images that I might be able to improve upon:

  • the film grain is heavy, almost as if I had added it deliberately to make it look like film. This may very well be an artifact of the expired film. I’m putting the rest of the expired film rolls in the trash and will buy a few rolls of fresh film.
  • in the top photo, the expression on my father-in-law isn’t the best. I will, again, attribute this to photographer error–I think he was mid-comment while I was focusing, and I snapped the shutter while he was remarking on my post-film (lack-of) abilities. A digital image would have allowed me to see that I had taken a less-than-optimal image and tried again.

Finally, there’s the cost. A single film-based photo will cost me a minimum of $0.70. Even if you include the cost of dual-drive storage on-site, and off-site storage, a single digital photo will cost me $0.003 to store indefinitely or $0.17 to have printed (at Costco, natch).

I’m not saying I’m done with film. But boy I sure do love me some digital benefits. There may be more to come.

Flores de Mayo


Less than 24 hours ago, I knew nothing about Flores de Mayo. I learned a fair bit from the Wikipedia article, and when I was done reading that article, I knew I had to watch my Filipino friends hold their own Santacruzan: the procession of … um … Virgin Marys? OK, the article isn’t really clear, and my friends didn’t say a lot about the history. They were too busy┬ádecorating umbrellas and making arches and dressing up in debutante finery.

They decided to have a competition, where each one of their teams would present a couple–the woman and her escort (or in one case, two women and their escort)–and they would parade around their work space. Then distinguished and distinguishing judges would evaluate them on a 100 point scale. I was lucky enough to be present during the event, and immensely honored to have been asked to be a judge.

We were asked to judge them on several points: poise, beauty, construction, crowd impact, and sophistication. I gave them all top marks for beauty for they were all beautiful, and I felt it would be more fair to judge them on the effort they put into their costumes and banners, etc. I had to leave before I could learn the results of the judging. Who won doesn’t really matter to me. They all had a great time.

One other note about the pageant: a couple of other Americans were invited to participate in the pageant. We chatted a bit about the experience afterwards, and it was really great for the three of us to have been included in their uniquely Filipino event.

And for my closest Filipino friends, Nezie, Val, and Leslie, this blog post is for you. Because you expected it.

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