For Your Eyes Only

Given the digital photography obsessive culture we live in (of which I am guilty) I haven’t stopped thinking about my sensory experience of the Inauguration and of how gadget driven my senses have become in general. How gadget driven our memories have become, when we surrender it to our flash drives or memory sticks.

Humans have, throughout time, used their senses to both have experiences and transmit experience, which has worked pretty well. One doesn’t have to be a purist though, because even cavemen made tools to help communicate (I think they were called weapons). People are using technology to enhance their sensory experiences more and more, as the modes by which such enhancement is provided become more and more affordable.

And yet I wonder if we are telling better stories? Are we communicating more? Are we communicating better? Such sprawling platitudes could be very fun to paw at, but I’d like to bring things a little closer to earth.

Let’s talk about my cold sore.

Before you go and get all judgmental on me, I’ve been getting cold sores way before I even knew about the “adult” manner in which these can be transmitted. Blame the shared cups and eating utensils we had as a family of six, my tomboyish ignorance of germs or perhaps just genes. Other people get colds, or the flu, I get lips that look like I’ve been stung by a million bees.

I haven’t had a cold sore breakout in over a year, and they usually happen now when I’m exhausted and have treated my body like a trampoline. Following five days and nights of straight craziness before the Inauguration, which included lots of public transportation, shared space and gallavanting outside in the cold, I finally felt the tingle of a breakout coming on the Eve of the Inauguration. By morning, I had a nice shiney bump on the top of my lip, and my first thought was “Oh great, thatll look beautiful in pictures”.

Apparently I wasn’t alone in my physical response to the Inaugural fever that swept the city. Most of the folks I know were there have been fighting colds since last Sunday’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial. I don’t mean this post to sound like I’m complaining, because I definitely not, I’m proud of the cold sore I earned! I think its fun that we all are sick for basically the same reason….but I’m wondering what to name it? “Obamacitis”?, “The Barackold”? “A serious case of The Sasha & Malia”?! I’m open to suggestions….

Which I guess is why when I ended up separated from my family and friends on the Mall on the 20th (and thus my sisters camera- which I borrow habitually), I felt relieved in a way. My cell phone didnt work, I had no camera and was amongst strangers who didn’t care about me being in their pictures. It was just me, and as I’ve written below, my faulty ears. My eyes were useless as the crowd heaved and pushed attempting to get within eyeshot of any big screen. Seeing has become soooooo important, as if our ears or memories have nothing to offer.

Once his speech was over, crowds started their heaving again and eventually I made my way home by way of the Memorial Bridge. My cell didn’t start working until I reached Columbia Pike and not until I reached the warmth of my house did I start receiving all the pictures of things I missed, messages from my group asking where I was and texts from folks out of the area asking “how was it?!” which is of course followed by “send me a pic!”. People were appalled when I told them I didn’t have one.

Reading about Microsofts’ Photosynth work on the Inauguration and of the phenomenon of emergent visual technologies pulls the camera back on the consumer behavior at work with events such as these. People so focused on getting a picture they miss the very moment they wish to remember.

A friend of mine told me that around Halloween, every pumpkin patch near her house had become a digital portrait feeding frenzie. Parents didnt play with their kids on the hay-stacks and help them pick pumpkins, they were too busy staging the perfect Autumn photo shoot. And when I asked a cousin of mine what her favorite thing she saw in DC was while she was here during a recent trip, she said “I dont know, I’ll have to look at my Facebook album”.

I sound a little smug I suppose, or maybe just jealous I don’t have a tricked out camera or camera phone. Had I kept my gloves on during those bitterly cold nights and mornings, downplayed the picture taking and just enjoyed the experience, I might have avoided the attack of the Obama-inspired cold sore.

Course then I would have nothing to show for it.

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