9.11.2015

....and our tools make us.




Someone who followed my personal instagram account surmised the wrong thing about someone else who had been following my instagram account.  It's too big of a story and too personal, still, to explain, but my shock and horror that such a misunderstanding had grown out of something that I had little control over?  Led me to (impulsively?) delete my entire instagram account. This untold story seems much more interesting than it is, trust me.


And if you're more interested in the untold story than the ruminations that follow?  Just check back in a few years.  I've scheduled a post for the future that will tell the untold and then, those of you who care?  Will be satiated. 

And now a happy story about a different failure.

Nine years ago I decided to start a blog about old signs.  I would take pictures of the signs, post them on the blog and invite my viewers to tell stories about these signs.  I proclaimed that I was joining cartography 2.0 in imagining maps that told of experience as evenly as they described roads and elevation levels. My blog was a failure.  The hundreds of likeminded story-oriented internet-users who 1.) had a cartography fetish, 2.) were excited about the prospect of the new localism, 3.) really really liked old things like signs and 4.) had time and interest in giving me feedback?

Didn't exist.


Three people joined forces with me. Over the course of a year. Also one New-Localist / Catoraphy2.0-loving-intellectual from New York City left a very affirming comment.

Happily this wasn't my job.  It was just me experimenting with modes of engaging the new social media sphere. The failure didn't cost me anything but time and embarrassment, and a little dose of humble is good for everyone.

Did I say this was a happy story?

So the happy started about a year ago.   On a whim, one morning, just a few months after I had shut down my personal instagram  (which, for the record, is exactly how long it takes for shut-down-regret to take hold) I happened to notice a sign that I hadn't noticed before


I impulsively snapped a picture.  I'll admit that I had been primed by the some other happenstances. The curious combination of those happenstances is chronicled in another blog post which will have to wait until later.  On that day, I just happened to combine the old idea with the new disappointment.  I could make an instagram called SIGNS OF CANTON.

I spent a year making this instagram account and it was a success.;People liked it and I finally decided that I needed a personal instagram account too. Ever since digital cameras happened? I have been bleeding pictures.

So the happy ending to this story (that includes some sadness) is that I decided that I loved instagram  -- it's brevity, it's ephemerality, it's curatorial arrangement and it's insistently visual diction.

I decided since my first terribly misunderstood instagram had archived many moments of aesthetic and personal value?  That I would go ahead and resurrect those photos, at least the ones I had saved on this new eclectic and personal collection.  After all, what's a #latergram anyway?  Isn't everything posted on the internet a "later" gram by at least a few seconds.  And in the grand scope of human history?  Who's counting?

As I found these old photos I stumbled upon the picture at the top of this post and I was overwhelmed by my own inability to say everything that needed to be said about this picture.  

As some of you know Marshall McLuhan, the exciting media theorist who claimed (most famously) that "The medium is the message" and (perhaps) second most famously that the wold has become a "Global Village" through technology shifts?  -- also said some very important things about tools -- ahow they serve us?  And how they reverse on us. 

One of his more well known sayings is:  "We make our tools and our tools make us."  

And it occurred to me that part of the reason that I was so undone by this particular photo? Is that i had been remade (quite unexpectedly) by the pic-joining app that had allowed me to pull these three photos together.   The remaking meant that each picture was now interpolated by the other two.  Their meanings were joint in a way that made a demand on my own memory and emotions.  I now the saw the past in away that was different and definitely more rewarding. 

All three of these photos were taken during a weekend that I went home to visit my family.  I went partly to enjoy a (David Bazan) concert with my brother and I went partly to see my aging grandfather who had just been hospitalized for stomach problems.   I went without my children or my spouse and that meant that I had more fluidity to stay wherever and do whatever. 

These three pictures encapsulate some of the favorite emotional moments that I experienced that weekend: 

1. I spent the night in my brother's quirky black house in a bed smack-dab in the middle of the recording studio with the world's most faithful dog, Cooper, snuggled against my legs.   This picture was taken during a conversation that I had in the early dawn moments with my brother after an unreasonably deep and fulfilling sleep.  Daniel, my brother is one of the most unusual people you will ever meet, but if you get to meet him you will be more fortunate than most people.  He's charismatic, brilliant, idiosyncratic, inappropriate, unpredictable and very much a mad genius.  He's also loving which tempers all of those other traits in way that makes those traits both slightly less terrifying and definitely more attractive.  

2. I spent a few hours in the hospital room with my Grandpa Andy who was foggy and yet terribly funny.  I never spent a moment with him that wasn't full of smiles and laugher.  This visit was the last time I got to see him, except for a final goodbye via skype.  This is the last picture anyone took of us.  I got my name from him, and my prefernce to laugh about things rather than cry.  Also my ambition to get things done, and my commitment to relationships over success.  

3.  My sister has been making the most decadent crepes for the past few years.  It's a very involved process and she covers her kitchen counters and her wide dining table with the most delectable food.  The thing about delicious food and exquisite drinks at my sister and brother-in-law's house? Is that they are so intrinsically connected to the experience of BEING WITH that you always feel when you're there.  They are so interested in you, but still full of funny stories and ridiculous exaggerated tales.  There is always laughter.  Always truth.  Always love and always extraordinary gustatory experiences. 

I joined these pictures together in a hurry, wanting to paste together favorite parts of the weekend immediately after it happened.  I posted them on the old instagram and never imagined how much the sum total of them would mean to me years later (now) when I discovered them all pushed together. 

The tool that Marshall McLuhan might be interested in here would be the pic-joining app.  After all the principle of montage is relatively recent human accomplishment -- particularly as it relates to documentary and domestic photography.  

The idea that in this quickly achieved triptych, I am conjoining so much distant past with the elation of the moment and the future nostalgia that I will (now) feel?  The idea that these unconnected experiences can be strung together like beads on a prayer bracelet that root me in my past, my hopes, my present, my fears, my future, so unknown -- this tool has achieved something at once spiritual and transcendent.  

And of course, this tool is designed for sharing, right?  The social media publications that serve as the destination for all these moments of expression are AS important a dynamic in this equation as anything else.  I pull these pictures together to make them all more interesting to YOU.   To show you MORE in a compressed moment.

This picture is me inviting you to treasure these feelings with me: 

  • Satisfying, generous fraternity, 
  • Gustatory and generous fellowship, 
  • An unknowing goodbye to a legendary patriarch. 


These feelings (together) have no name!  Together they exceed verbal expression!  If this tool is "making" me -- it is undoing my ability to name and categorize everything, and it is inviting me to feel, to be, and to dwell in -- moments of profound human experience like the ones pulled together in this montage. 

And I am inviting you (this tool bids me invite) to feel and want and work for these things with me. 

We make our tools and our tools make us.


1 comment:

alyssa said...

Whenever you publish a new blog post, since they're less frequent than they used to be, I try to wait as long as possible to read them. Like, knowing that it's there to be read is a nice incentive for other tasks before I get to the treat of your tales.

And then while I'm reading it, I try to read it in doses, to prolong the joy of discovering the story. I try to read a paragraph, take a break. Read another, do a task.

I never succeed. I always devour it immediately, as fast as I can.