Great Europeans

Dumb Phones have Killed Culture

Once, while at the Royal Spanish Academy in Rome, I tried to give lectures, but one woman constantly blinded me with a camera flash, which prevented me from concentrating on my notes. I said that while I was working, they should stop working, because of the division of labour. The woman turned off her camera but clearly felt pained. 

Another time, in San Leo, during a festive event from the city administration, I prepared to rediscover the landscapes of Montefeltro, praised by the artist Piero della Francesca. 

Three types of people constantly blinded me with the flashes of their cameras. In both cases the ‘blinders’ were not paparazzi, but, presumably, educated people who voluntarily came to listen to lectures on a certain topic. 

Nevertheless, apparently, the ‘electronic eye’ syndrome distinctly lowered their cultural level, which they may have claimed. Indifferent to the subject of the conversation, they only wanted to capture the event, probably to post it later on YouTube. They simply refused to understand what it was about, in order to bring into the memory of their phones what they had already seen with their own eyes. 

Thus, this syndrome of the mechanical eye that replaced the brain seems to have mentally corrupted even quite civilised people. They now leave the event or event, which they have witnessed, with several pictures, but without a single thought about where they were and what they saw. And if I’m right in thinking that they travel the world photographing everything they see, obviously they are doomed to forget the next day what they captured yesterday. 

I have told various audiences how I stopped photography in 1960, after one trip to French cathedrals when I photographed like crazy. Upon returning home, I was in front of a whole bunch of very mediocre pictures, and I could not remember what is depicted in them.  I threw away the camera and on my subsequent trips entered only into my memory what I saw.  And as a material memory, and even more for others than for myself, I bought excellent postcards.

One day, when I was 11 years old, an unusual noise on the ring highway in the city where I was living caught my attention. From a distance, I saw a truck hit a gig wagon driven by a peasant and his wife. 

The woman was lying on the ground, her head was crushed, and she was just lying in some kind of porridge of blood and brain matter. When I remember this, my hair still stands on end. The sight resembled a crushed strawberry cream cake and her husband was tightly squeezing her body and he was howling in despair. 

Terrified, I didn’t come closer: not that it was the first time when I saw brains smeared on the asphalt, but, fortunately, the last time, but it was the first time that I came face to face with death. 

What would happen if I got it like some teenager tonight a cell phone with a built-in video camera? Probably, I would record a video to show my friends that I was there, and then put my ‘video capital’ on YouTube in order to please other adherents of schadenfreude, or joy of someone else’s misfortune. 

And then, who knows, maybe, continuing to capture someone else’s grief, I would become indifferent. But I kept everything in my memory, and this image, 70 years later, continues to haunt and educate me, encourage me not to be indifferent to the grief of others. Adults with eyes glued to smartphones are lost forever. Do today’s youth have such an opportunity to become adults? ~ Umberto Eco, July 10, 2012, magazine ‘Espresso’

Ex-Merchant seaman Michael Walsh recently published on social media a photo of a massive ocean wave. Captioned as typical of the largest wave ever recorded the image attracted thousands of likes and comments.

The former deckhand is pleased with the photograph. He says, ‘try to get into whatever image you are looking at. Can a smartphone picture help? Thousands of seamen who experienced such conditions think not. No picture of an ocean storm can bring the spectacle to life.

‘Recalled are the screaming winds tearing at the rigging and the Wagnerian claps of thunder as waves large enough to overturn an ocean liner crash down on a heaving ship’s deck, its hatches and the tormented vessel’s upper decks.

Who does one adequately describe the protesting sounds of an ocean-going freighter being helplessly tossed like a toy from the trough of an ocean wave to the wave’s crest; a noise so fierce that even a human scream is swallowed up by the tumultuous sounds of nature at its most violent?

‘Try to get into the picture, any picture. Live the picture and use your imagination to make the picture come to life,’ he adds.


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1 reply »

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