Sunday 13 February 2011

Patience is a virtue

Last week I had to explain Douglas Dunn’s metaphor about the beauty of life being ‘the film that always comes out blank’ to the majority of a group of GCSE students. Coincidentally, the next day the process of ideas emerging during writing was described to me using the simile of an image slowly appearing in a developing tray.

Although there are people who continue to use film cameras – I also learnt a couple of weeks ago that the manual developing process is still taught on photography degree courses – this is another area of people’s lives that technology has radically altered over the past decade.

In today’s world of digital photography, when we take a picture the first thing we do is to squint at the small LCD display on the back of the camera to see if it has come out successfully. If not, we can remedy the situation immediately but if it has, the picture is easily transferred to another medium (often Facebook or Flickr) for general consumption or possibly printed when we return home or next pop to the supermarket.

These instant results are far removed from the physical process of loading a film into a camera, taking 24 or 36 pictures that all count (and squeezing a couple of extra frames in if you were lucky), removing the film from the camera while ensuring it is not exposed to light, sending it away to be developed, and waiting a few days before the arrival of a package of prints in the post. If a new film was loaded towards the end of a holiday, it could be months before the film was finished and developed and then when the pictures arrived on the doorstep they had the power to transport the photographer back to another place and another time.

The delay in seeing the ultimate prints was often tantalising: even at photo labs which offered an hour’s premium service there was still the nail-biting sixty minutes wondering whether any of the shots would be any good. Now we know immediately.

The immediacy in seeing results is both a benefit and downside of technology. Many people are now wholly ‘connected’ so that they can receive and deal with e-mails on the go (accepting we are well past the stage when it was unusual to be able to speak to people away from a landline telephone). As a result of this, senders expect a faster response to e-mails but it is noticeable that people rarely demand the faster responses: it has simply become an expectation.

People now expect things to happen instantaneously; the idea of waiting for something is becoming outmoded. However, there are still reminders of the virtue of patience: buds are beginning to appear on daffodil shoots, and Lent is shortly to make us wait for Easter, but they are things we have to look for and often only find in the natural world. Unless opportunities to wait are searched out and embraced, it is easy to lose the space in our lives for reflection, for ourselves, and for each other in our hurry to show our holiday snaps to the world.

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