The “Ken Burns Effect”

My all time favorite filmmaker is Kenneth Lauren Burns.  Bar None!  I recently heard him discuss something that I have been hearing about called “The Ken Burns Effect.”  Apparently, it is a function that Apple Inc. developed which allows users to zoom and pan using old still images utilizing the effect that is the signature hallmark of his growing body of work.  However, he was also keen to point out that while all of the technical advances that we have available at our disposal help make things more dynamic, it also important to keep in mind, as he and his supremely talented chorus of artisans do, that too often these technologies, that we seen to depend more and more upon, are the tail that wags the dog.

Mr. Burns and I both, along with a shared sensibility of how to make American History relatable to the masses as opposed to the academic, have something else in common.  We are both, to certain extent, something of a luddite.  He has stated that he tries wherever possible to dodge questions put to him about this App and has no real idea what they’re saying.  I find this comforting to know that I am not alone!  Personally, for me I think the reason why it is hard to keep up with all of the vast and ever-expanding changes technologically speaking is that everything changes so suddenly.  I remember as recent as twenty years ago, when he released his second extended narrative “Baseball,” when the pace of life was much slower.  It seemed that you at least could  get a fairly evenhanded grasp on how to navigate the world around you.  It sometimes feels like just when I get handle on  something it like, “Oh, great now I have to learn a whole new thing!  Dag-blasted!”

One other thing I wish to say is that while the technology that we have helps to democratize our ability to do things, that does not necessarily mean we get better quality.  Before 2002, when he released his film “Mark Twain,” all of his films were in fact just that, film.  Afterwards, every film consisted of a balance between film & digital.  All interviews and live shots are still done on film, 16mm which used to be the standard format when he started making films in 1971. While all of the still photographs are done digitally.  Personally, while I am not anti-digital mind you, I miss the days when they were all done on film.  There is something more richly authentic in the aesthetic that film retains that digital just somehow lacks.  Before the advent of all of these digital technologies, the way they use to film the stills was by placing the images one by one on an easel, attached to a two-by-four with a grove in it, atop of a water cooler, and film dozens, if not hundreds, of shots of one image.  I think to myself and wonder how much more intimate that must have been, as opposed to just doing it vicariously through an electronic intermediary.  Oh, we’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

I must say, in all truth, I sometimes feel like an amiable dunce!  I have made a conscious choice to avoid social networking sites for the reasons that I don’t want anyone else to own or have access to parts of my life that they are not privy to.  Call me old fashioned, but I have this curious view about privacy, I think it should remain PRIVATE! But more importantly, I already have to many acquaintances and I like knowing who my friends are.  And trust me, no one has 500 friends in a lifetime.  Acquaintances, Yes!  Friends, No!

But I digress!  The point that I am trying to make here is that I still think it is very necessary that if you are to understand something with any meaningful depth, you must dig deeply into the subjects; as opposed to typing in key search words and only examining what is immediately shown on a screen.

P.S.  Coming Soon, This Fall, September, The Roosevelts: A Film By Ken Burns, 14 Hours, Only On PBS.  Mark Your Calendar!

Stupid or Superficial?

This makes for an interesting philosophical debate.  Is Google making us stupid?  I would suggest that the real question is this: Is Google making us more superficial?  First, let us begin with an important moral distinction: Dumb and Stupid are not the same thing.  There is an important difference!  Dumb is the naiveté that we all have that comes to us naturally, having no familiarity or prior experience  with something.  Put simply, just not knowing!  Stupid is what I would define as willful, deliberate ignorance; an unwillingness to learn.  Personally, I would suggest that there is something to the argument that Google has in fact made it easier for people to become indolent, thinking that there is no need to actually apply and develop our knowledge seeking skills, believing that all they have to do is just punch in a few keywords or phrases and in a nanosecond they will have everything they need.  However, to fully grasp something with any real meaningful depth takes actual, not artificial, effort.

While it is true that the technologies that we all take for granted, and utilize, on a daily basis serve to make life and our everyday tasks much simpler, it is important to remember that these are merely tools.  Nothing can replace the heart, the imagination, and the emotion we as sentient beings possess.  What concerns me, ad nauseam, living in today’s world, is that everyday, as I look around me, I see people constantly experiencing the world, even just around them, via a screen.  Whether at their desk, sitting in class, or even just walking down the hallway, it seems that everywhere I turn someone is always looking into a screen.  Comedian George Carlin, considered by many as one of the most prominent social critics of the second half of the twentieth century, said towards the end of his life, “I interface on my database, and my database is in cyberspace.  So I’m interactive, I’m hyperactive, and from time to time I’m radioactive!” The point: There is a difference between actual space and cyberspace!  If you inhabit the world in a superficial way, you are missing out on the depth that there is, not only to the wider world, but also, and more importantly, to yourself as a human being.

On a personal note, I have a fear of becoming to dependent on these technologies.  My fear is that I will not be able to know how to explain things intelligently to others in way that has meaningful resonance.  This is why I prefer to connect with people one-on-one, as opposed to doing it through social networking sites.  A screen only gives you part of the picture, not the whole!

Is it just me or…